Are your clients talking to an empty room?
I've noticed recently that when clients talk about previous therapy, they sometimes say they felt as if they were talking to an empty room. When I try this on, it feels painful. Clients bring to therapy their most sensitive, difficult experiences, and the parts of themselves that they are most reluctant to reveal elsewhere. As therapists we all know it is our role to create an accepting, honouring space where clients can feel heard, so what is it that goes wrong?
Every circumstance is of course different, and generalisations are not always useful, but I want to offer a few thoughts about what might underlie the feeling of an empty room.
When a client feels alone in the presence of their therapist, they are experiencing a disconnect. For whatever reason, either the therapist or the client are not embodying their experience. One or the other is perhaps lost in their thinking, or feeling overwhelmed and frozen, or their senses may somehow be dulled. What is missing is a vibrance and immediacy of unconscious communication between the two physical forms in the room, and this leaves us feeling alone.
As a therapist, a key part of your role is to stay aware and take care of yourself. Knowing when you are losing your grounding, when doing overtakes being, or when compassion fatigue sets in because you are simply overloaded is crucial. Taking action to restore your balance and presence so that you can give yourself fully to clients is essential, however it may not be easy.
Clinical supervision provides a space where therapists can openly explore what is happening within their therapy room, and within themselves. Just as for clients with therapy, this is the space to reveal and confront what troubles us most deeply, that of which we are ashamed or fearful, and that which leaves us feeling vulnerable. For if we are not prepared to plumb these depths, how can we provide a safe space for clients to work deeply?
Alongside supervision, and personal therapy when needed, therapists will hopefully have a range of ways they restore and replenish their wellbeing. We are all different and one size does not fit all. Flexibility and a vibrance in self-care activities is essential to maintaining a lively and effective presence in our work.
Therapists and supervisors alike need to pay attention to the quality of their being in our work. Where we are falling short, personal therapy and our own supervision are essential parts of our self-care responsibility. For support to deepen your professional practice through supervision or personal therapy, get in touch.
About the author
Fe Robinson is a psychotherapist, couples counsellor and supervisor working in Durham on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays with some evening appointments available. Her mission is to help clients thrive, whatever their life circumstances, she specialises in trauma and relationship challenges. For grounded, authentic support, get in touch.
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