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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.

 

Here’s another question I’ve been asked about the therapist/client relationship. My answer is “Yes, I think so.”

The job of the therapist is to use yourself as an instrument, and be aware of how you ( your instrument) reacts. If you feel angry, irritated or bored with a client, very likely other people would also. So you use the information you’ve received, by your own reaction, in some manner that would be helpful to the client. The trick here is note your feelings to yourself, think about why the client is probably acting the way he is, and not express your feelings straight out as they are felt, for example, speak your mind angrily. The therapist’s job is to find a way that the client can learn what he is doing that is evoking anger in another person. It’s very important that the client not feel criticized, and to learn what is going on within himself at the time.

Similarly, if, as therapist, you are “tiring” of your client, or getting bored, it is a signal (to me anyway) that the client is not being authentic, or is avoiding something important. This too can be communicated to the client without judgement and in a clarifying way to help the client in self awareness.

This takes skill, more than simple self control, because you as therapist have to know how to reach that particular client.

What you say may be experienced by the client as a confrontation but one that includes having the therapist’s arm around you, metaphorically.

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.

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.

The beginning of good relationships is all about finding out how similar you are and being inside each other’s pockets, or wanting to be, all the time. That’s the passion that cements you as a couple, and it’s usually a wonderful, falling in love time.

But it doesn’t last, not for any couple, and trying to hold onto it when you need to be growing to the next natural stage in couple love development only causes upset.  Of course, it can feel scary and anxiety provoking:  What’s changing here? Why is anything changing? We were great, and now you want to spend time with your old friends? You disagree with me… about what??

This second , natural stage of development for couples includes recognizing that you are two different people, with different interests and even emotional reactions. Often it includes  wanting  to be  on your own more of the time. It’s a time of redefining your self-dom and when it is working well, it comes with the delight of having your partner see you as yourself, the uniques you who is not just a mirror of your partner. It includes being able to speak your different opinions describing your differing feelings and being heard and accepted as yourself. Essential too is being able to hear your partner as being different from you – listening to their perspective and their feelings and working out  what needs to be agreed on, which isn’t everything.

This second stage of couple growth can be difficult to navigate particularly when one person is ready to step forward into it,  and the other is not.  The person who is not ready can easily feel abandoned, frightened, and try to prevent their partner from what feels like moving apart from them.  This is when many people come to couple therapy, and the right therapist can be a lot of help.

Rather than being afraid, I urge you to see this as a growth step that will lead to a much deeper and closer intimacy for you and your partner.

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.

I am in the process of gathering a few therapists for a small consultation group that will meet in my office at the Quarry Arts Building. I am keeping it small, likely 3 to 4 therapists and me, so there is ample time for everyone’s participation. The group members will bring cases they wish to discuss and get assistance about. I’ve found that to be an excellent way to learn. There will be time for additional discussion about therapy in general as regards the case presented. A will charge a nominal fee for my time, depending on how many people are involved. If you would prefer one on one consultation, that can also be arranged.
I have had 40 years of experience in private practice in Madison, and my expertise is presented in the articles and blog entries on this site. If you have questions or are interested in joining, don’t hesitate to call: 608 535 9266.