Every so often I read this to myself to "wake myself up" when it becomes apparent
to me that I have gotten lost in the muck of my own conditioned ideas about
“what I’m supposed to be doing” as a therapist
or “how therapy is supposed to go.”
And just about every time I read it, I find myself editing it in some way or another (obviously, I'm a work in progress)...
I am nobody’s savior. The power that can heal and transform and evolve each of us arises WITHIN each of us.
That power is infinitely more creative, intelligent and generative than I can ever be. The best I can “do” as a therapist is to step out of the way to allow this power to express itself through me, and through the synergy of the very real connection I share with this other fully equal human being who happens to be my client.
Ultimately, I am not so much working for this “client” as he or she is currently constituted, but rather for the Life Force that wants to express Itself more fully and powerfully through my client, as my client.
My own ideas and expectations about how a person "should" heal or change are unavoidably limited and distorted; more often than not, it eventually becomes obvious that they are actually a hindrance to the psychotherapeutic process. It’s precisely when I think I know how to “fix” or “change” my client that I am most confused and least effective as a therapist. Thus I remind myself often: my job is not so much to be knowledgeable, but rather to be curious.
My job is also to PAY ATTENTION to how this intelligent, generative energy is already at play within my client, and to SUPPORT this process as best I can by providing the conditions that maximize its opportunities: a genuine human relationship characterized by mutual respect, compassion, courageous honesty, humility, penetrating inquiry, clear interpersonal boundaries, and focused and accepting attention.
Said another way, my job is not to “direct” the Life Force arising in my client, but rather to assist it:
Firstly, by coaching my client in the art of attuning to and cooperating with this energy that is already present and available within themselves.
Secondly, by helping my client recognize the habitual resistances and contractions within them that have come to block the free flow of this energy – so that my client can reclaim his or her ability to release and/or dismantle them.
Thirdly – and perhaps most importantly -- by regularly rising to the challenge of facing exactly that in myself which I would otherwise be most inclined to avoid or suppress out of fear (in other words, if I am to help “light the fire” of my client’s transformation, I must first and foremost be willing to be on fire myself…).
The mission is not so much to “change what we feel”; the mission is to meet whatever we may feel inside with acceptance and compassionate curiosity.
There is no such thing as a worthless part of ourselves – every part of us has something to offer the whole. And there is no healing without wholeness. In fact, they are one and the same: The healing process is the return to wholeness, and that means that every aspect of ourselves must be included. Thus therapy is always about embracing and integrating whatever we discover within ourselves -- never about further suppression or denial.
Healing and awakening are about getting back to our senses, to the present moment, to what is actually happening within us and around us (rather than remaining caught up in what our conditioned minds have to say about it).
Perhaps one of the deepest contributions I can make as a therapist is to coach another human being in simply facing whatever it is that they’re afraid of within themselves, daring to see with fresh eyes what is actually there -- and then finding some way to include that aspect of themselves in the context of their being as a whole. In this way, each and every "part" of us is allowed to make its natural contribution to our aliveness and well-being as a person -- and thus to all the other forms of life with which we are inextricably connected.
This process of healing and developing and blossoming does not work on “my” timetable. I can only support it; I cannot “make” it happen if it’s not ready to happen of its own accord.
Finally, I am not here to get my own egoic "needs" met by my client -- but it is not a problem if I find myself nourished, healed and even transformed by the vitality of our therapeutic encounter!
Said A Bit More Poetically (And Succinctly)…
I am a gardener. Each of my clients is one of the “plants" in my care. A force much greater, more intelligent and more creative than “me” directs each one’s development and blossoming. My job is to LISTEN to what this Greater Intelligence guides me to do in order to maximize Its expression through the heart and psyche of my client. I can’t make an orchid into an oak or vice-versa. It’s not my role to decide what anyone should become. It’s my job to help my client transcend the obstacles to their own unfoldment, and to provide the basic conditions that I know are necessary to allow that unfoldment and blossoming to take place naturally and powerfully.
And if all else fails, just listen.
(Really, Tony: just listen!)