In my preparation for coming ‘back to work’ I glanced through old comments and notifications and found a comment left in 2008 “How do I know I am with the right therapist”? I don’t know how I answered back then, but today I thought “What an interesting question”. How do therapists/counsellors know that they are right for a particular client, and how do clients know that they are with the right therapist?
Often both clients and therapists fall prey to the assumption that therapy is the only path to recovery and/or that therapy with a particular therapist is the only path to healing. This is a dangerous assumption. Let’s not forget, the client is doing the healing, not the therapist. The capacity of the seed to become a fully grown, healthy plant is within he plant, not with he gardener. He or she is only providing an environment in which that growth can accelerate. When the seed is not growing the gardener has failed to provide the appropriate environment.
Unfortunately there are plenty of therapy models that base the lack of progress in therapy on shortcoming in the client: s/he is either in denial, avoidant, hostile, has a negative transference, is lacking trust, or (my favorite one) NOT READY. And although that might all be present in the client, it is the therapist’s job to provide the right environment for that to be addressed. That’s the therapy. If clients wouldn’t have these negative symptoms, they wouldn’t need a therapist.
It might be useful to revisit what a therapeutic alliance is. Judith Herman writes in her book trauma and recovery p.134 and 147
the relationship between survivor and therapist is one relationship among many. It is by no means the only or even the best relationship in which recovery is fostered…Though the therapeutic alliance partakes of the customs of everyday contractual negotiations, it is not a simple business arrangement. And though it evokes all the passions of human attachment, it is not a love affair or a parent-child relationship. It is a relationship of existential engagement, in which both partners commit themselves to the task of recovery.
I read that interpretation and think of compassion, care, respect, understanding, and appreciation. If we (therapists and clients) can make that happen as best as we can and as often as possible, we are having a good thing going and growth can take place.
Coming back to the above question of how to know that you are with the right therapist my response is: when you are starting to feel better, think better, and function better. I personally don’t believe in the old saying “…it has to get worse before it can get better”. I think that is a tragic ‘invention’ of a pessimist who got hold of the fact that many people have to hit rock bottom before they act against their habitual beliefs. But it is by no means a law of nature. Things can actually get better starting NOW.
So, how do therapists/counsellors know that they are right for a particular client, and how do clients know that they are with the right therapist? I would love to hear your thoughts on that 🙂