An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field. -- Niels Bohr
I am not claiming to be an expert but perhaps simply the holder of some wisdom accumulated over time. Recently I was doing was long-distance skype counseling session and heard words from my client that I had heard several times before. Now it's not unusual for individuals to have similar issues in their life, as much as we yearn to be uniquely ourselves we do share common thoughts, desires and frustrations. In this case my client was in an almost identical situation to two previous clients.
This is one of my stories, it's not about any of the three clients and I am not going to disclose the exact life situation they shared. Just for clarity let's say they all had a similar scary nightmare when they were young.
There is a full decade between my current client and the previous one and another decade or more to the first time I was told about the 'nightmare' by a client, probably sometime in the late 80s. After the recent skype session I pondered just how differently I had reacted to those three so very similar situations.
My first experience happened during one of those 'kitchen sink' second sessions with a client. Sometimes after an introductory therapy session the client will spend the week thinking that they did not get all of their 'issues' out on the table, so in the second meeting they talk and talk about everything, just so the therapist has the whole picture of their life situation. When this happens the therapists has to spend a lot of time sorting and absorbing the client's words. Unfortunately, I did not give full weight to the 'nightmare' disclosure and that lack of therapeutic insight delayed the client's progress.
Ten or twelve years later, I picked up on the significance of the client's words as he said them but I also recognized he was not ready to pursue that particular aspect of his recovery. You see there is a therapeutic concept known as pace. If you push a client too soon or too hard they will shut down or run away; well that's the short version of pace. I was really into therapeutic pace back then. What? You didn't think therapists had strategies and styles?
Finally the most recent client. Again I knew exactly what was being said but I also knew this client was interested in progress - immediate progress. So I pushed back, when she resisted I pushed harder. Was I violating the client's pace? Possibly, but I am older and potentially wiser. On her third attempt at deflecting the conversation I said:
"Look we can talk about your boyfriend being distant or your boss being a dumb ass manager; but I thought you wanted to get to why you are unhappy and since you just told me exactly why, shall we talk about that?"
There are lots of responses you can get from a client, some good, some bad, some confusing and some confirming. She said:
"Remind me next time to see a therapist who can't see so easily into my soul."
Therapeutically speaking I've made most of the mistakes before and from those hopefully I've gain a modicum of wisdom, if not expertise.
[Situational aspects of these client interactions have been changed to protect the indentity of the clients. No animlals were harmed in the writing of this post.]
photo from National Geographic