Every once in a while, a client will tell me that therapy hasn't done them one 8@!#&** bit of good. And when this happens, often the circumstances are a mess, and it feels good to zero people in the room.
And this is a sticky point in therapy for yours truly.
Before I became a therapist, I'd heard that the most successful therapy happens when the client and the therapist have a good, supportive relationship. And I thought that meant that if the client trusted me, then I would be able to give my fabulous advice and she'd listen, and it would work and we'd all go home happy.
Then I went to grad school. And what I got out of it ($30,00 later) was this.
The relationship IS the therapy.
For me, anyway. That's how it works. We get hurt in relationships, we get healed in relationships. All our fears, our hopes, our dreams, our disappointments. Our questions about whether we are enough, whether we can be loved and accepted, whether there is meaning in our lives. All those deep, existential questions of life. They are held in relationship.
And what I personally have to offer you, as a therapist, is a relationship that (I hope) can grow strong enough to contain those things.
So when I have a client who says I'm not helping, that is not a good moment for me. I start to question whether the relationship is working the way it should. And it's really, really hard for me not to flip into fixing. I'm an eldest child, such a good girl, emotional over functioner, blahblahblah, pick one. Fixing is a nasty old habit of mine.
Usually the client desperately wants to have a to-do list, instead of having to trail tears and snot all over the room.
And I would like to do more than take up space and emit carbon dioxide.
But I have learned that fixing is an emotional disconnect waiting to happen.
No matter how much both of us want the fix, it's badbadbadbadbad for the relationship.
Fixing is all on the surface. It depends on perfection and performance and approval. (And you know all those things are on my icky list.)
Fixing believes that good circumstances make a good life. And while good circumstances are nice (nobody likes comfort better than moi), "when I get x, y, z in place, I'll be happy" is a big fat lie. And we all know it. We need to dig deeper than good circumstances, to find the emotional connection that's going to get us through the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Fixing all goes along well for a while, especially when everybody is in try-hard mode. But the day will come when it doesn't work any more.
She (gasp) stops following my fixing plan. At that point, she will feel guilty and ashamed. And disconnected from me.
And then I can blame her in my head, for ignoring all my fine suggestions. And I will feel disconnected from her.
Now we're separated by shame and blame and we can't have the kind of relationship that supports and heals.
The connecting (and scary and difficult) thing is to offer myself and a relationship, without fixing.
That's vulnerable for me, and I think it's vulnerable for my clients, too, because they're being asked to hurt for however long the hurting lasts.
When I say to somebody, "I think we just need to grieve through this," it is not a happy moment. This is generally not what they wanted when they came to therapy.
And I get that. I hate pain. I want to feel better as soon as possible.
But I've learned the hard way that what I really need is to BE better in deep, healing ways that will lead to deeper connection, and greater capacity in preparation for the day when life takes the next whack at me.
I really want to pass that experience of deep healing on to my clients.
So. When it comes to fixing, I'm sorry, but I'm not helping.
I would still love to be with you, even though I can't fix it.
Would that be enough?