From One Therapist to Another: The Best Thing We Can Give Our Clients
Although I personally love hearing my clients tell me that I'm wise or helpful, what I professionally want is for them to know that they have their own healing wisdom. I work hard to show them that they actually have everything they need already within themselves and my job is to help them uncover it. Please notice that I said I work hard to do this: it's not a passive activity. In this post, I'm going talk about why and how we help our clients see what they need to see... from the inside out.
Have you ever worked with someone who seemed to agree with
something you said and you thought that they'd "gotten it",
just to lose it by the next session?
As I lead my consultation groups, one thing that I notice is how satisfying it is for all of us to "figure out" one of our clients. We hypothesize about whether this person has trouble with relationships because of his relationship with his dad, or notice that a certain pattern is repeating, or wonder about attachment style, etc. We all get into it and there's nothing wrong with that. In fact it's helpful - even necessary - in that it helps us figure out what it is that the client will need to see. And of course we are generally right because we are well trained in the science of personality development and brain development. After coming up with these astute interpretations, however, we are then eager to go back and share them with our clients. But determining the best way to help our clients see what we see is the art of psychotherapy, if you will.
The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see. – Alexandra K. Trenfor
But I think it's hard for us to be that kind of teacher for many reasons:
First of all, most of us got plenty of training in our graduate programs on creating case analyses and choosing strategies matched to certain problems. This leads to a misunderstanding that our main function is to say here's your diagnosis and here's an evidence-based strategy for fixing the problem. We do need to do these things but focusing primarily on this leaves out a fundamental step in the change process; accessing the client's own wisdom.
Secondly, we can become too focused on outcome. Of course outcome is extremely important but again, we are in danger of leaving out a major part of the therapeutic process when it becomes our constant focus.
Finally, it takes patience to help someone find something that we've already seen and it's hard to be patient especially when our client is hurting. However, I have found that it actually saves time. When the wisdom comes from within, it can't be unseen. Have you ever worked with someone who seemed to agree with something you said and you thought that they'd "gotten it", just to lose it by the next session? This is much less likely to happen, if the process of "getting it" welled up from inside.
So what to do with all those evidence-based strategies? Use them of course but not prematurely. Use them after the client has developed an understanding of how and why they will help. Use them once the client truly sees the wisdom in doing the hard work of change.
The following are some of my favorite questions for showing someone where to look without showing them what to see:
Is there any small part of you that feels differently?
I've noticed this pattern, what do you make of that?
If I understand what you're saying, there's a part of you that wants connection while there's another part that fears it, is that right?
I'm confused because last week you actually said something different.
You seem stuck, what can happen?
Is there any way to honor both sides of your dilemma?
This is reminding me of what you said about _____. Do you think there's any kind of connection?
How do you think you learned to believe _____ about yourself?
So I think the best thing we can give our clients is
to connect (or reconnect) them with their own wisdom.
I've written a book that has many strategies for helping clients understand their own stuckness, enabling you to show them where to look without telling them what to see. If you found this post helpful, you can check out other posts I've written on this theme here and here. Also, please scroll down (beneath the banner of previous posts) to like and leave a comment.
Blessings for peace and health in 2021, Linda