My job is the best in the world some days. Saying farewell to dearly loved clients, having witnessed them coming in distress, exploring their experience and making discoveries that make a difference, and watching them apply those in their life and begin to thrive is just magical. It is poignant too as we end, but it is a real moment of celebration.
Not every piece of therapeutic work goes this way. Many things impact therapy, and its not a case of clients or therapists doing it right or wrong, I wish it were that simple. If it were, we could develop a formula and apply it in every case, and outcomes would get a lot better a lot more of the time!
Psychotherapy is a dynamic, living process between two human beings. It is an encounter, a meeting, a way of being together and discovering, of both people being prepared to venture into the unknown and just see what happens. At its core I believe psychotherapy is about relationship, trust, and taking risks.
The relationship evolves from the moment a profile is read and an appointment booked, we begin to experience each other and find out about how we relate, both consciously and unconsiously. We find out how we interact, whether we want them to or not patterns develop between us, and depending on those ways of relating, our relationship may deepen.
If psychotherapy is to progress to a position of making a difference, this relating needs to be trusting. Both client and therapist need to feel safe to be who they truly are in the room, with the focus on the client and what they are bringing, and the therapist being fully present and available, safely holding what is brought. There will be ruptures, and hopefully repairs along the way, but without trust, the work is likely to be more shallow, short-lived and less insightful.
New ways of knowing change perspectives. When we realise things we did not realise before, this changes us. However, we can have an exquisite understanding of our patterns and not change a thing, and that does not make for successful therapy.
Clients come into therapy because they are in pain, they bring their vulnerabilities and hurts, and want relief. The role of psychotherapy is to create ways of making it safe enough to take risks, firstly in the room, and later out there in between sessions. The thing is, clients don't generally do show up in this way unless therapists also step into the unknown and metaphorically dance in the relationship. We need to be vibrantly resonating with what is happening and be accept that we are no experts, we do not know, our role is to help clients find out.
Milton Erickson used to say 'the client has the first induction.' He meant that to alter a client's way of being, the therapist first must change, so for example if you want to induce a trance, then entrance yourself and the client may choose to do so as well. These words apply widely, in a similar vein Gandhi told us to 'be the change you want to see in the world.' I don't want my clients to change to my way, but I do want them to find their own way forward, and that means I must be open to them changing me along the way. The day I stop being moved, developed, challenged and changed by clients is the day I need to stop this work.
If you want a therapeutic encounter that is real, immediate, and changing, then listen to your whole system when you pick your therapist. Do ask questions and check out their approach and track record, but most of all listen for their humility, and their willingness for you to metaphorically touch them. When you find that, you may well be on to a winner.