Psychotherapy as a Spiritual Pursuit

I think it is everyone’s job, everyone’s spiritual job, to clean up the human mess your parents left you and not spread any more dysfunctional hurt around to any other people. So I think it is your job to do your own personal therapy so you don’t continue the mistakes your parents made with you – and I mean this not only with your own children, but first and primarily with your own children. Then with everyone you have contact with in your life.

Another way of saying the same  thing is that I think  it is everyone’s spiritual job to be the best version of themselves that they can be.  I don’t (at all ) mean doing this at every minute of every day, with a perfectionist pressure, but rather to become the best person you can be. That creates  another very competent, moral, high functioning person (in whatever way that is for you), so that you are making your personal best contribution to the world around you. You might  then be the best man in a construction crew – doing very good construction work and  being a good human being, kind, honest and decent, to those around you. Or perhaps you are a lawyer and could be unscrupulous and out to make the most money you can, or you could be  touching people’s lives, or a corporation’s life, with integrity that profits everyone involved. The world and all the people in it, need those of us who are in  the lucky enough position of having the money and time to indulge ourselves in personal growth – to do it.

I realize that doesn’t have to take the form of psychotherapy. But it is one path.

 

Why you care so much about what your therapist thinks of you.

Because you are in transference with this therapist. That means, you experience the therapist as if he or she is a parent to you, and all of us want our parents to love and approve of us. Your therapist is a stand in parent to you.

In fact, “working in the transference” means to a savvy therapist , that giving their support, approval , validation, etc, is very healing to their clients. Therapists should know this and do this. I keenly remember how much it meant to me to have my therapist value and like me. I have said that her words were “mainlined directly to the two year old in me.” That was so very healing, and I never forgot it, so I do the same for my clients. I work in the transference, meaning everything I say and do with my clients is with the awareness that I am a stand in parent and have the opportunity to re-parent, to heal, the child within the grown up who is my client.

So what you are asking about is pretty much true for all psychotherapy clients, and the stronger the transference, normally, the stronger the need for a loving parent to give the child within the adult client the esteem building care they needed and can still profit from. I hope your therapist understands this. It is why so many people say that in therapy “ the relationship heals.”

I have other blogs about transference. You might be interested in this phenomena since it effects everyone in therapy.

Good luck to you. I hope you are getting what you deserve.

The Therapist / Client Relationship

Snakes live in the forest. Every day they travel over rough ground – pebbles, rocks, fallen trees with uneven bark. Every Spring they get a new skin, and it happens this way:  the old skin stretches and loosens. It eventually detaches, over time, from the snakes body, and  the new skin  shows up underneath.

The old skin never falls off until the new skin has had the time to toughen up and manage the rough terrain the snake goes through. When It first appears, the new skin is delicate and pink, but by the time it is ready to protect the snake from it’s daily environment, it has become brown and strong.

It’s never the therapist’s job to pull he skin off a snake.

 

The Therapist’s Job

I’ve been asked how much therapists really ‘get it’ about how much they effect their clients’ daily lives with what they say and do. I say it depends on the quality of the therapist. It doesn’t hurt if the therapist has been in therapy themselves and experienced the power of transference.

Good therapists know very well how significant they are to their clients, certainly want to avoid their clients’ losing them, and pay attention to what they say and do. Good therapists put themselves into a “good parent mode” when they are working, and are careful about balancing nurturing and challenging interventions that are intended to promote growth.  Even the way a phrase is delivered can make an important impression.  It’s part of the therapist’s job not to be overly tired, and certainly not irritable, from their own life.

I often feel as it I have the ‘client’s life in my hands’ knowing full well how powerful my words and actions can be for them. Doing therapy is not a casual business. That’s why therapists are tired after a day of sessions. They have been working hard, mentally and emotionally, to give each client their best.

In Psychotherapy: How to deal with your therapist and your feelings.

I have been asked by clients what to do with their feelings of attraction to their therapist, past or present.

It’s an uncomfortable feeling usually, and often makes a client feel one down –  because an ethical therapist won’t reciprocate and the client feels alone in their attraction. The therapeutic relationship is a natural place for clients to sometimes develop romantic feelings for the therapist. After all, the client is being listened to deeply, possibly understood more fully than ever before, and hopefully truly helped.

The informed therapist doesn’t take the client’s feelings personally, and is most concerned with treating the client respectfully about their feelings, and also reassure the client that the relationship will always remain therapist/ client. It’s important for the client to know that the therapist will never take advantage of the client’s feelings and allow any other kind of relationship to develop, besides therapeutic, in session, either during therapy or afterward.

Feeling  attracted to your  therapist is often a part of positive transference.

Your Imperfect Parents

Most people want to believe their parents are good people and were good parents to them. To keep this belief is to keep your world stable and good.    If your parents were normal people they made mistakes that have affected you. Some parents are so injured themselves that they, for the most part, weren’t good parents at all. Some parents are downright destructive and their children are lucky  ( or marvelously resilient) to come out of their childhood relatively intact. Some children don’t.

The truth  is there are no perfect parents. There really aren’t.  People not willing or able to see their parents’ limitations and mistakes lose out in understanding and forgiving themselves for their own limitations, and often feel bad about themselves.   They make excuses for their parents, seeing them so much as victims of their own situations and therefore not ultimately responsible for what they did – or didn’t do – to their own children. So the adult child inwardly makes themselves bad to protect the parent from responsibility for their own behavior. For these people the parent must remain good, or at least not as  faulted/limited  as they were. When in therapy, these adults lose out on what they might learned about who they are and why they are the way they are.  They can’t overcome the  mistakes or cruelties from their parents; you can’t fix something that didn’t happen. And you can’t find out what did happen if you aren’t willing to  be open to what you find when you look.

People who protect their parents and lose out for themselves are often relying on the parents to make them feel OK, instead of taking it on themselves to make themselves feel OK. This is a growing up process that many times people resist. Of course we all want our parents to love us, but if they screwed up and our self esteem is lower than it could / should be, it’s time to take on the work of finding out how to validate and love yourself. That’s therapy.

How to get the Most out of Therapy

This article is going to list a number of suggestions about how to do your part of the work necessary to making your therapy a success.  My list will be more or less in order of what needs your attention, but after the numbers 1 through 3, you can determine the order of importance yourself.

  1. Decide if this therapist is a very good choice for you, or not. Notice if you feel comfortable with this therapist, if you “click” with her/his personality.  Don’t settle if you just don’t really like this person, or if you get the feeling she/he doesn’t much like you. Also ask yourself if  this person is a good choice for you in terms of knowledge, experience and competence in whatever  areas you need.  For example, if you know you are going to be doing trauma work, don’t let some young therapist “learn on” you.  If she/he hasn’t got trauma training and experience, look elsewhere.  If you think this therapist is a really good fit but later change your mind, reconsider the fit. Also look into my article about negative transference, which I won’t go into here, but is often why people leave their therapist when they would have gained more by staying.
  2. If one of these areas is weak, I recommend you keep looking for another therapist who can fill both requirements for trust building ( personality and knowledge).  You can, of course, go through the process of speaking your mind to the therapist and asking them to improve whatever it is you find them lacking, but this will likely only lead to the therapist’s growth, and not yours.  I don’t think it is a good idea to  bolster the therapist ( as you may have had to do with your parent(s)?)  Therapists  don’t get to learn on the job while you are paying for their help. You deserve to have a therapist who is ready to go with you, and to be the leader in the therapy.
  3. Once you’ve made your choice and are building trust, get engaged with your work. Getting engaged means thinking along with the therapist, answering questions thoughtfully , bringing up thoughts you have about yourself that pop into your mind, and  saying when you think the therapist is going in the wrong direction, or going somewhere you aren’t ready for, etc. etc. Engaging with your whole self, thoughts and feelings, and speaking of them so the therapist  knows for sure what your reaction is to whatever is going on, is probably the most helpful thing you can do to get the most out of your therapy.  Your thinking along with the therapist and saying what occurs to you makes for  two brains working instead of one. And your brain knows you!  I have clients who are interested with a passion about what’s going on in session and are deeply involved,  and others who honestly believe that if  they show up and listen, that’s all they have to do “to get better.”  There’s nothing further from the truth.
  4. The issue of trust is significant.  It may take you awhile to trust the therapist enough to speak up about what you are thinking, or cry when you feel tears, but if you aren’t ready and aren’t ready and this goes on for weeks, either bring this up or go find a different therapist. . Therapists are trained to tune in to their client’s and it’s their job to help you feel at ease by letting you know you that are interesting to him/her, and that you are accepted as you are. If you continue to feel less than comfortable with the therapist as a person, it could be the wrong therapist for you, or it could be something from your history that could be addressed successfully.
  5. Remember the therapist is hired help.  It’s the therapist’s job to reach you, whatever level of emotional intelligence you are at. The therapist needs to explain things so you understand. You don’t have to impress them, or not hurt their feelings, or be concerned how you express yourself. The therapist is supposed to come to you, where you are in every aspect, not the otherway around.

Is it useful to see more than one therapist at a time?

This is a question I’ve been asked many times, by clients who come to me and on Quora.  Here’s my answer:

I don’t recommend seeing more than one therapist at a time.  In fact I won’t see a client who has another therapist, they have to choose.

There is the obvious reason that the two therapists are different people with different ideas and may disagree or take the client in different directions, which could be confusing. But a deeper problem has to do with transference:

If the client had a parent who was abusive or just inadequate, that same parent was probably occasionally functioning well as a parent also. The child, to deal with this uncertainty about what they are going to “get” from the parent often does that the psychiatric community calls “splitting.” In the child’s mind (s)he divides the parent up  as “the good Mommy” and “ the bad Mommy” even though the parent is one person. So if the client starts having a negative transference with one therapist that one becomes the “bad Mommy” and the other the ‘good Mommy” which makes it very difficult if not impossible to help the person work through the negative transference. Working through transference problems is often the most important work of therapy.  Allowing two therapists is a  set up for “splitting,”and it is totally counterproductive to that person having a successful therapy experience. I think it is a bad idea even with clients who appear relatively well; the “walking wounded” successful adult who comes in with a minimum of problems. An exception can be that the primary therapist encourages the client to go to a specific kind of therapy for a specific amount of time for a specific reason,  and it is something that the primary therapist doesn’t offer. Examples might be joining a group or going for EMDR therapy.

There are sometimes particular reasons for a client to want two therapists. One not so good one that I have encountered is that  having 2 therapists  keeps the client from getting close to either therapist. That might not even be conscious for the client, and that avoidance of intimacy won’t be dealt with if they are allowed to have two therapists.

The Trump Effect

I have seen this among my own  clients so I am sure this is  happening  all over the country: People with a tendency for anxiety or depression have been triggered by Trump’s election and the chaos and disregard for the Constitution that has followed

You are more likely to be effected if you (1) are low income (obviously – you are more effected because Trump is doing nothing  to take care of the poor),  (2) if you were traumatized by abusive parents as a child, and (3) if it is bothering you that the Trump  agenda is to take away safety nets like Medicare and Medicaid, Affordable Health Care and other government sponsored assistance programs (including protection for the Environment, attacks against certain minority groups.etc.).  There is a great Resistance going on also, and although much of  the power is still with those that support Trump, the Affordable Care Act was not lost.

For those who have been abused as children this all feels like an abuser, again,  using his power to hurt without concern for who he is hurting.

I think the most empowering thing any of us can do, whether we were abused as children or not, is to participate in the Resistance in the way that bests suits you.  For those who were abused, remember  this abuse isn’t hidden and there are people fighting for you.

The “Not Good Enough” Therapist

I have answered a number of questions on Quora; many from people asking specifically for my response.  A large percentage of them speak of  variations on the same theme. They are either blaming or at least doubting themselves about their discomfort with their  therapist or the  lack of success of the treatment.  In each situation, I saw reasons to believe the therapist was either inadequate or downright unscrupulous and unethical.

This is such a set up:  People go to therapy  because they feel uncertain about themselves  or their life in some way, and that in itself makes the them vulnerable and not confident in their ability to critique the therapist. Plus, everyone really wants the therapist to be wonderful and help, even to be a really trustworthy parent figure.  Unscrupulous therapists can turn this to their own advantage in a myriad of ways: from seeing the client longer than needed to make more money, having sex with their client, to using the client to be  their friend. Poor therapy can be very harmful or at a minimum waste the client’s time and money, and it may turn them off to therapy altogether.

Some people automatically give the therapist credence just because they have an office and are in business. Please don’t! Question the therapist and trust your intuition as much as possible. You are not supposed to trust this professional just because they have a degree. The therapist has to earn the client’s trust and you can let that take as long as it takes. It some situations, that trust isn’t fully felt until the end of a long bout of therapy. And that’s just fine.

If you are uncertain if your therapist is useful  to you, it’s fine to bring this up and evaluate the therapist’s response. It can also be helpful to ask another therapist about your situation.  The ‘second opinion’ therapist may want you to try and work the  out your dissatisfaction  with your current therapist – considering the possibility of negative transference – but if you have given that your best shot, it’s really OK to find someone who works well with you. If you repeatedly have the same dissatisfaction, then it may indeed be negative transference and you need to pick your best choice  of a competent therapist and hang in for the long haul.

I have other blog entries and short articles about How to Choose The Right Therapist, what you should get from a good therapist and how to decide if and when you should leave as well, as well  as blogs about transference. Check them out if it would be helpful to you. You  can also write and ask me for my opinion.