Many clients come to therapists wanting guidance, and tools – ultimately wanting someone to tell them what to do, and how to do it. While I can fully sympathise with this wish, I also can’t help but think this stance arises out of painful experience – that it is a learned response, a reaction in which people shut down their own valid emotional reactions, have an external locus of value and of judgement, lose all sense of their own agency and ultimately lose the knowledge that everything they need is already inside them.
The issue of “wanting tools” is often a barrier to the work a client is there to do. “Wanting tools” often means wanting a shortcut, a way of bypassing the unconscious obstacles between a person and the life they want to live – such as unconscious anxiety, or unconscious, attachment-related behaviours. As a practitioner dealing with this wish requires stepping out of the shoes of an omnipotent, all-knowing expert, and focusing instead on the collaborative effort, the shared effort where the client and I put all our skills together, put our hearts and minds together to try to achieve something good for them. It requires being honest and transparent about the limits of my powers – that I cannot know for sure what the client needs, that I may have some ideas about what might be good for them, but that ultimately only they can know. This means accepting their reactions in response to this, encouraging them to fully embody the feelings that then arise in response to me, and ultimately leaving the space of knowing what they need free for them to step into and claim once again.
Thoughts on Therapy and Mental Health