Are You The Expert, Or Am I?
When I started therapy as a first time client, I expected all the answers to my lifelong questions to be delivered quickly and succinctly, with no waiting time and all of my emotional limbs intact. It was not to be of course, and I, like every other client who is new to therapy, had to develop my own unique understanding of the therapeutic relationship. And the reality for me was that it was a long and slow process which came without instructions.
So why were my expectations so high? Why had I been so absolutely certain that this stranger (though kindly in face and listening intently to me) should not only have the answers to my questions, issues and queries, but should also know my life's history instantaneously after one session and be ready to shed light on the dark confusion that was my life up until that point?
Perhaps I had been taken in by the magic of it all, as glamorized by every Woody Allen film I'd seen; where the main protagonist is in long-term therapy for a neurosis no one seems to have a cure for - life. And films such as these put therapy in the frame of the every day in some way, the magic technique that people swore by, even though no one could really describe it.
I put my faith in those ideals because, well, wouldn't it be wonderful if the frustrations and anxieties we felt on a daily basis could be eliminated using a magic technique administered by someone who knows us better than we know ourselves? I approached therapy in this way right up until I received a valuable piece of information of the Person-centred persuasion: No one knows you better than you know yourself because you are the expert of you.
I cannot recall who said it to me, and there is a good chance I am paraphrasing, but the essence was that I was the expert. And suddenly all the expectations I had about therapy felt disconnected from a truth I had always known. I am the expert. I've lived my life, I know my habits, the people I surround myself with, the things that make me happy and the things that make me sad. In fact, when it comes to the subject of me, I am a bit of a know-it-all!
The obvious question then followed; "so what do I need a therapist for?". Through training the answer became clear and obvious, and a scene comes to mind to illustrate:
A woman puts on her reading glasses to read a book. She becomes enthralled in the book and goes to get a cup of tea before she gets really settled into it. But now she has made her tea and cannot find her glasses. She considers reading without them, but after a few minutes the words become blurry and she feels the beginnings of a headache. So she starts to search the sofa she was sitting on, then under the table, then the window sill, then the kitchen, then back to the living room again. Her frustration is about to reach its peak as she stands in the middle of the room, arms spread, absolutely perplexed at the disappearance of her glasses.
At that moment, a friend walks in and eyes the woman standing in the middle of the room. The woman explains her search for the last hour for the elusive glasses, and asks her friend for help. The friend smiles, approaches the woman, reaches to the top of her head and shows her the glasses she had been wearing all along.
Like a client, the woman already had the tools (glasses) to see clearly and think clearly, but when she lost them momentarily, everything became blurry, painful and frustrating. And all it took was her friend (a pretty obvious metaphor for a therapist) who happened to have a different perspective, to show her that she had the tools all along, and she had just needed help finding them.
A therapist doesn't have to know everything about you and have the ability to answer trivia questions about what your favourite food is, because as the client you already know that stuff; you are the expert of you. What they do need to know is what is important to you and what you need to have in place to see clearly again. And maybe all you needed was an extra pair of eyes, to show you what you already had but might have forgotten about along the way.
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