The other day one of my friends asked me the following question: “Is it actually enough that someone really knows how I feel”? Sometimes that really is not enough, but most often it gets you a good part of the way. When I tell someone how I truly feel, it does not have to be to a professional practitioner. It can also be to a good friend or to another person who I like, and in whose judgment I trust.
There are two things that are advantageous with telling someone else how I perceived a certain event or situation, how I really feel or how I actually wish my situation would be like. One is that I hear myself saying it out loud and thereby have a good possibility to become aware of myself, my needs, my wishes, my dreams or things I perceive to be difficult. I become “my own witness” in a manner of speaking. The other good thing is that if I am lucky, the other person receives what I tell them, i.e. hears me and sees me. Then I can experience being met for who I truly am and what I am currently bringing with me. If this “encounter” goes well, the person with whom I am talking also becomes “my witness”.
The difference between such “encounters” between friends, acquaintances, members of the family or colleagues and the “encounters” between therapist and client is not always easily discernable. The difference lies in the fact that the psychotherapeutic “encounter” should rather guarantee that the client is seen, heard and met by the therapist as he or she is and with what he or she brings. This is not, however, the same as the therapist accepting the client blindly and silently. On the contrary, the therapist should question, discuss, answer and explore as much as possible of what the client brings. All in all with the intent and aim of getting to know the client more closely, not to satisfy their own curiosity, but to be able to ask the real question at the right time and suited for just this person.
A psychotherapist asks questions
A psychotherapist asks clients what, how, who and when. What is what you want, and how can you act or what can you do in order to get what you want? Do you here and now have an idea of when you want it or when you want to act? Do you feel that there are any obstacles in doing or acting in accordance to you wish? What are these obstacles and in what way do they hinder you? What do you not wish for to happen, and is there any way in which you can participate in making sure that it does not happen? If there is something that you cannot affect, how can you act in order to cope with the situation, who or what may perhaps help you in this endeavor?
A therapist seldom provides you with answers and almost never with advice
It is never wrong to provide advice, especially if it is good advice. However, we are not talking about psychotherapy then, but of consulting. Questioning as a method in working with a client has the great advantage of making sure that the therapist does not define the client, his or her problem and his or her way of solving them. Conversely, the client and the therapist will continuously learn more about the client’s inner resources and potential to tackle problems, deal with adversity or discover useful traits in themselves that the client has not yet discovered or has not been able to use thus far. Questioning is a respectful way of working with another human being, and in my point of view the only acceptable way of working with clients. For who know more about a person than the person him- or herself?
A psychotherapist is his or her own best tool
A psychotherapist should have a solid education as a psychotherapist. Such an education should include theory, clinical practice, supervision, and foremost the therapist’s own therapy – preferably several hundred hours worth. It is an ethical must that those who work psychotherapeutically with others know their weak and strong traits, dare to take personal responsibility for both the “pretty” and “ugly” aspects of the own personality and their own actions. It is also of utmost importance that he or she continually, at least periodically, attends therapy and counseling as a client.
A psychotherapist’s task
Many years ago during my education I was inspired to the following metaphor about the task of the psychotherapist: “A psychotherapist is a visitor in the client’s scenery. Here he or she has the role of being a companion. It is the client who knows where the road leads and in what way and at what rate it should be covered. The therapist walks beside the client, ready to help in clearing difficult obstructions along the way. Underway discussing the road and the journey and that which is discovered on the journey, helping to read maps and staying alert and vigilant for the client’s reaction to real and perceived dangers, needs for changing the rate of advancement, needs for rest and wishes to stop to explore something in more detail. At the journey’s end, the therapist exits the landscape and never tells a single soul of what he or she saw, heard or experienced there.”
Text and illustrations: Tine Sylvest
Photographs: Bo Mellberg
The author is a certified Psychotherapist, Art Therapist and Workplace Counselor/Coach