Presence: a way of simplifying choosing the right therapist
The therapy market-place is awash with different 'isms' and there are hundreds of different types of therapy. It can be daunting looking at this huge variety and wondering if a particular specialism is what is appropriate for oneself. “With the issues I have would cognitive behavioural therapy or psychoanalysis serve me better?” What is it we look for when deciding whether a therapist will be right for us?
One perspective is that it is the human qualities of the practitioner rather than the specific trainings, diplomas and qualifications they hold which is likeliest in predicting a desirable outcome. If one were to think in this way, many humanistic therapists would look at presence as being the fundamental quality or characteristic to look for in a potential counsellor. All of the important things a therapist does: listening, empathising, welcoming non-judgmentally, respecting, seeing with insight and responding with warmth – all could be argued to spring from the source of presence in the practitioner.
So what is this presence that is being referred to? It is the ability to 'be there', to fully meet the client and stay in that space without distraction. It is an openness to what is happening now, a warm and alive engaging with the reality of the client and the relational field that exists between the two of them. One could think about presence as the absence of occupation with anything else other than the present experience of two (or three, if couples counselling) people meeting – a space being cleared so that there can be a full appreciation of all the thoughts, feelings and sensations being explored.
Without presence the experience of therapy can seem cold, precarious, unsafe, uninviting, remote or lonely. Presence brings life to the interaction between therapist and client – the therapist is palpably there, willing to follow the client with curiosity wherever the client wants and needs to go within their experience. There is a dynamic sense of vibrancy, of being fully met - what is on offer can feel like a sanctuary where what is difficult, taboo or unloved can be fully held, heard and seen.
This article seeks to propose that a therapist's knowledge only goes so far and that it is widely acknowledged that the relationship between client and therapist, the therapeutic alliance they build, is of paramount importance – indeed in many instances it is in itself the intervention, the relationship is the vehicle for healing, the medicine that helps transform the dis-ease. It is therefore suggested that it is presence within the therapist which could be the key indicator to look for.
Just like a bolognese sauce without tomatoes, so a relationship without presence will be dry and unsatisfying. Therefore, there is an encouragement that sometimes finding a therapist right for you doesn't have to be difficult and overwhelming – merely finding one, by trying them out! Who one feels one can be open and honest with; someone who seems to really be there in an embodied and present way.