Can therapy change your life?
How to build a bridge from the therapy room into everyday life.
Have you ever thought ‘I want their life’ when thinking about your therapist? From a client perspective, as your therapy progresses, it is very easy to idealise your therapist and think that they have the perfect existence: well-paid with your hard-earned cash; little physical exertion; shorter than average working hours... However, an article in the Telegraph (February 2016) suggests that psychologists (and therapists) suffer from the same frailties as everyone else.
And, given that therapists have chosen to come into a healing profession, which will often begin with seeking healing, it is not surprising that they have their own suffering and issues.
Indeed, some therapists will tell you the client can only move as far as the therapist’s resistance. Meaning the therapist is in a live process, often in receipt of their own therapy plus necessarily clinical supervision. Thus therapists will be engaged in a process of their own change and development.
So if therapists are flawed and haven’t even got their act together, what is the point of seeing them? Of course, on some level we know we are all flawed and even when idealising most of us recognise no one is perfect. So the importance of the statement above about therapists is that they need to recognise their own flaws, blocks, tendencies, prejudices and the possibility that they are responsible for some of the change needed in the therapy room. After all, they cannot expect us to change without being willing to look at their own stuff surely?
In Love, Sex and the Dangers of Intimacy, the authors Nick Duffell and Helena Lovendal describe the irony of having provided an effective couples' therapy session and then having a big row with each other on the way home. The subsequent exploration of their own difficulties led to a big and an enriching of their own work with others.
Therefore, by idealising the therapist as clients, are you just plain wrong? Well, some therapists argue this phase called dependency is a necessary part of therapy and of building the bridge between therapy and real life. It is a phase in therapy to be passed through in order to internalise the care of the therapist into our own client psyche.
I have heard no more toe-curling examples of idealising and falling in love with the therapist than in the Susie Orbach dramatisation of her therapy sessions (Feb 2016). However, in the privileged position of listening-in to John’s therapy session, the listener can hear how the ‘falling in love’ is part of John’s process and this process would be wrecked by any rescue on behalf of the therapist, or worse still in returning this love. He has been in therapy with Susie for 18 months having begun as a resistant client.
Susie Orbach ‘In Therapy’ BBC Radio 4 -- Episode John
Because the therapist may be filling a gap left by an absent or emotionally absent parent, the change the client experiences and the feelings this gives rise to can be very powerful. The crucial lesson here is that the client gets the opportunity to move beyond this phase of dependency or idealisation, to a place of internalising the emotion projected on to the therapist. These emotions are often negative as well as positive. In Families and How to Survive Them, the authors John Cleese and Robin Skynner discuss how psychological damage can be repaired by this form of re-parenting. Seeking out in life what has been missed. Unfortunately, it is often human nature to repeat the trauma rather than make the leap of seeking out what is missed. Thus a violent childhood may be played out in a violent relationship.
This is why the experience of a healthy therapeutic relationship can be so transformative. It can change a client’s tendency to repeat negative patterns by offering an alternative. Therapy like this really can make a difference.
Tips for therapy to change your life:
Choose your therapist well. Seek a solid recommendation. Look for professional membership and/or accreditation.
Find a therapist with good boundaries. Weekly sessions at the same time with clear time frame and transparent pricing means you can feel safe to focus on your own process.
Trust your instincts. Bear in mind feelings of discomfort may be part of the experience, but don’t make excuses for poor therapist behaviour. This is not like going to the doctor.
You can pick and choose.
Be willing to challenge your own resistance of sticking with the process.
Notice changes in yourself and your behaviour. Give yourself credit for taking time to work on yourself. This is you making changes, not the therapist, however skilled they may be at facilitating change.
I do my thing and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, And you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful. If not, it can't be helped.
(Fritz Perls, "Gestalt Therapy Verbatim", 1969)
About the author
Sara Todd works at New Road Psychotherapy Centre where she manages a collective practice of 20 counsellors and psychotherapists. She is a qualified integrative counsellor with an interest in creative forms of therapy. She is also a novelist.
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