There are times that we as therapists lose sight of what our clients need most—a genuine, nonreactive, empathic presence, authentic relationship, supportive change-validation, skill-building, and goal-directed activity.
Too often, mental health workers escalate clients’ distress by asserting too rigid a modality and too rational a mindset for the therapy to be therapeutic. In fact, I find that this principle is true often in marriage, parenting, clinical supervision, and in many other relationships we encounter in our daily lives.
Carl Whitaker argued that therapy should be a complex emotional experience, not “intellectual nagging”(Napier, 1977). We are complex creatures, most effectively engaged at multiple levels of awareness and being. Moments of emotion have ignited wars. We are far from purely rational creatures. The world is not a purely rational place. Why should therapy be?
When our approach with clients is too rigid or too directive, it naturally provokes resistance.
Here are a few tips to decrease resistance and promote a healthy therapeutic relationships with our clients:
● Respect clients’ autonomy: Our clients shoud never feel that we are making a choice or decision for them. They should feel free to make the choices and decisions they feel are best for them. Encourage and promote independence.
● Validate pre-existing strengths, current readiness or motivation to change (even when it may be low), and positive steps already being taken toward therapeutic goals.
● Meet your clients where they are in the process. Encourage them to feel their difficult emotions in the face of unconditional acceptance in order to begin working through them rather than merely talking about them.
Wishing each of you a Productive week!
Napier, A. Y. (1977). “Follow-up to divorce labyrinth.” In P. Papp (Ed.), Family therapy: Full-length case studies. New York: Gardner Press.