The How Series: What is Going on inside a Therapist’s Head?

The How Series: What is Going on inside a Therapist’s Head?

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Working as a psychologist, I often come across sharing from clients on their experiences in the therapeutic relationship, yet little is heard from the professional on how he/she actually experiences the relationship. I remember myself also as a student client in the personal therapy, and all I wanted to investigate was how the counselor was seeing me, and how she found me as a person – “How do you make this work?”, I wondered.

But then across my training and working experience, there is this process in the therapeutic relationship which sheds light on my understanding of “How…”. I often come across with the situations when clients present their relationship difficulties.“Can you give me the advice on what to do?”   There seems to be quite certain level of expectation that I, as the expert/professional, should be equipped with knowledge and skills for getting the solution for them. What is actually going on inside a therapist’s head?

What goes inside a Therapist’s head

In many circumstances I have become to be aware of the two sets of replies on my mind. One is the unspoken judging voice analyzing the reasons that the client could have gone wrong: “You have done this wrong.” “If you do not change in this way, you both can never reconcile.” I believe that if I follow such voice, I would lead the client in the way I think is right, and the client will know what to do so as to improve/correct. On the contrary, another answer seems to come from my deeper feeling which instinctively connects me with the others as an human being – we all are equal as individuals, and because of that I cannot, and I do not want to decide/judge what is good and better for the clients.

Gradually I have learnt to follow more my naturally generated feelings than my logical, and my deepening acceptance overrides own subjectivity and self-centeredness. I believe that is how I learn to accept the client as a “human” like me (we are human beings who have the natural tendency to regard own perspectives, and as I treat myself in such fashion, I learn to accept how much the others treat themselves in the human way), “listen to” him/her in all moments of good and bad. and then amazingly the client receives, and be comfortable with such gesture, and he/she becomes comfortable to be with himself/herself. Trust grows in between, and not only do we learn to proceed the growth together, I find that the client is also willing to explore and even consider the other options/changes in his/her own relationships in the outer world.

The Choice and Power depend on Self

 “When you stop trying to change people, people change. Let them be.”

For me, in the initial process, with the lack of understanding and rapport built in between, probably I can be as clueless as the client on “how” he/she can walk out his/her own path. When I mean “clueless”, I do not mean something based on the “textbook” theoretical knowledge and statistical analytical data, but the deeper emotional/spiritual level in terms of real understanding of the other person as a human being, his/her unique colors of life, and his subjectivity in seeing this world and interpersonal relationships.

yet what I truly believe is, when it is the client who makes the shoot, his/her own decision itself often becomes the strongest foundation upon which the client builds own confidence and tranquility to believe in the “shoot” decided. I believe that the change in self certainly rests within the inner-power. It is always the ship you build yourself you trust the most.

And so as I think about the relationships, one does not have the ultimate right to decide on the fate of the other on facing the problems/questions. It is not the matter of “right/wrong” decision, but the direct implication that as a person, we respect the other so as not to “stuck my own version” into the others’ bodily selves. How reckless, superficial, and naive it seems to be as we can judge based on a few words of conversation, or a facet of understanding, yet underneath that is the whole world of a person, a complete soul we do not understand about.

The Struggle in the Relationship – Psychologist’s Perspective

As a practitioner, I think part of my struggle comes from the battle against my ego of illustrating the intellectual self and rather stay at the status of being “clueless”. While I refuse the potential risk of clients being misunderstood about my “incompetence”, I find the larger fear comes from my inner self, that I cannot be good enough as just being me. It seems that the usage of the solid skills/techniques gives me power and confidence on bringing out the good service. It is indeed quite an ongoing battle between the ego and rawness in originality. I personally feel that just being me is like an egg without the shell, prone to vulnerability, as well as realness in honesty, compassion and trust.

Yet I find that the longer I stay with such realness/genuineness of self, then the sense of humbleness and respect rises within me in a more longstanding fashion. For instance, for things I am uncomfortable about from the client, as I insist on being myself and present myself in clarity and realness in front of my client, then generally I find myself gradually merging my world with my client. There is a distance there, as I am never really the client, yet that is that distance which makes me respect the client to have such wholesome and different world.

This corresponds to the finding that respect and humbleness in a relationship does not occur based on a quick exchange of conversation, or something which simply acted upon by a person within that moment. It is the result from the hard work of one putting down the “professionalism, authority, directiveness” after substantial training, and finding the balance between such fashion and being a person. I am a person, and I trust the relationship based on the person to person interaction, and I am eager to learn about the changing process of the client. It is a learning process, and with trust and persistence in learning, I allow this process to lead me to the “how in relationship” with the client.

After certain experience, I still find myself often wordless as people still enquiry, “What if the process goes wrong?” “What if the client does not change after all the time?” “What if the client gets upset as you take the risk to challenge, and so you sabotage the relationship?” Underneath the questions is the mistrust at the process of the therapeutic relationship. Frankly at most times I admit my struggle to put such concept of trust into concrete words.    How can I explain to the person who does not believe? Indeed I still have no answer for it. Because an absolute answer seems so powerful, too powerful that I put myself in the authoritative figure, and I am so certain of what the client should do. My uncertainty and query is real, and it motivates me on working harder, to attend to my competency and to my necessary changes of improvement. Then I come to learn that answering the right question does not matter anymore, but how I actually am in the counseling room does.

I find that often the more I work on my qualities (non-judgmental, respect, humbleness, etc) in the therapeutic relationship, the more I can relate such qualities to the real life relationships. The success of a relationship is not how much one has control over the other person, or  the positive outcomes brought forward, but simply the natural beauty created by both sides across time. In families, what the members need is not the “right performance” of the others, but the fact that everyone is accepted as part of the family as who they are. In friendship, what bonds between friends is not how beneficial one brings to another , yet simply the built shared memories they treasure across time. Like in counseling, life relationships do come across with conflicts and problems, and it is easy for us to just stick with the world of “you are wrong, I am right”, because it makes us feel better. Yet if we learn to be real with ourselves, then gradually we find that realness of us does not just come from our ego, but also the genuineness of concern, care and love for the other person. And certainly it requires time for us to nurture it.

I hope this sharing relates to you in some way.

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