I have lived a full life and suffered my share. I think it is difficult to be a person. I, myself, find life to be very challenging. That said, I greet each client assuming that he or she has struggled with his or her personhood and has experienced his/her share of life’s difficulties. This is true regardless of the social status, gender, age, intelligence, or appearance of the client.
To be succinct, let me say that, in retrospect, what has worked for me and my clients is “honesty.” We sit in my office together and we talk. I listen most of the time, but I also talk. We have a conversation and I try to be honest in terms of who I am, and I encourage my client to do the same. It sounds simplistic, perhaps, but it is not easy to be truly honest, truly real. The therapy process begins with this intention of honesty. As the therapist, I do not expect the client to jump into honesty over night. It takes some practice. But the more honest the client can be, the more effective the work becomes and the faster we can find some resolution and improvement. Within the context of this honesty, the client and I work together in search of understanding and change. It’s a joint effort where neither of us knows the answers at the beginning.
Secondly, we work with the pride issue. Pride is wonderful and it serves us in our lives. We can be proud of ourselves, our family and friends. But then there is false pride… a kind of pride that prevents us from acknowledging and disclosing our insecurities, inadequacies, failures, and issues. Therapy is not the place for pride. It thwarts our goals and ultimately works against the client.
I, as the therapist, cannot tell anyone what you say to me. I cannot even tell anyone that you are in therapy. I must take what you say to me to the grave, to be dramatic. So, we work with the pride factor. I know for sure that I am imperfect and that my client will be imperfect…no need to impress or be strong or to have it “together” or to have wonderful parents, or to be a good man or woman. The client who can be authentically imperfect will be the client who will heal him/herself.
Thirdly, I don’t try to make you into some socially acceptable, high-functioning, standardized human being. In my mind, I am attempting to help you help yourself become yourself. Whatever you think you are, you are much more than that. In therapy, we try to make manifest the parts of you that are dormant or repressed or oppressed, that could serve you in becoming a happier, less anxious, healthier, creative, more loving person. It’s an additive model. There is no “don’t be this, be that.” It’s more like: you have this ability in you, or you can do this, or part of you loves yourself, or part of you is assertive, or part of you is content, or part of you is unafraid, or part of you can get over this broken heart. I do no impose my values, life style or my beliefs onto you. This is an important point. Together, we facilitate the realization of who you already are.
Fourth: “He who has not sinned, caste the first stone.” It won’t be me. I am not going to judge you. There is no place for judgment in this work, as there is no room for sarcasm or cynicism. The literary critics and cynics can denounce the sentimental and maudlin. In therapy, we are sincere, open, vulnerable, honest, and sensitive. It’s serious work and we need to be candid and straight and sincere, as much as possible. Of course, we can laugh if the impulse arises, but basically we’re on the same side trying to help the client feel better or act wisely or have a better life. Get the egos out of the way and work together!