Clients assessing the therapist
Sculpture by Christine Kaiser
People come to therapy with certain expectations---sometimes they are happily surprised, sometimes they may feel they are not getting what they were looking for.
In this last case, we therapists sometimes receive criticism. It has happened to me a few times. When it is warranted, I am fine with it. When it isn't, I find it really hard to take. But, the therapy session isn't the place for the therapist to become defensive...! So, I feel it is actually much easier to take a deserved criticism as feedback and an opportunity to improve than it is to try to redeem yourself when a patient has complained inappropriately. How do you stick up for yourself? Difficult to do.
One time I got told that I didn't give enough direction and that I was more of a "listener type". Actually, as therapists go, I am probably on the more talkative end of the spectrum (you may have figured that out if you've looked through this blog at all---lots of posts in a shorter time than most...!)
I am not one of those, "uh-huh, yes, ummm", silent type therapists (and I have also received compliments on that from other patients). I am more of an engaged in an exchange type of therapist than most. So, this felt quite unjust.
I do listen though. I have to know what the actual problem is and that takes some attention and time. As a matter of fact, I often have to restrain myself because it is so tempting to tell people what to do which is not our job.
I do give suggestions however. And, this comment seemed particularly undeserved as it was a case wherein I had made more suggestions than usual and really tried to work out a plan of action with the patient, only to have it ignored.
(Have you ever noticed how sometimes a person does something themselves and then blames another? Very common.)
Of course, most people don't necessarily understand how therapy works, even some who have partaken of it for a long time. When I go to therapy myself, I am not only working on myself or my own issues but, I am taking full advantage of the process. Of course, that's because I know what it is.
It would be a benefit to patients or potential patients to learn about how therapy actually works and why it helps, what a therapist's role is, and how the patient can make the most of their experience! (Here is a post on that topic: http://therapiststhoughts.blogspot.com/2011/12/biggest-bang-for-your-buck.html)
I don't believe in keeping therapy a mystery or a secret---that's one reason I do this blog---the more you can understand how the process works, the better position you are in to take the full benefit. Here is another post on how you can best benefit from your therapy process: http://therapiststhoughts.blogspot.com/2010/04/your-side-of-street.html
Some people are more difficult to help than others:
- Some come to therapy---a place, by definition, for change---very resistant to change.
- Some present themselves to a therapist for help with a thorny problem and then withhold some of the pertinent information, leaving the therapy process handicapped.
- Some repeat the same problem over and over but never apply in their life what insight or decision was arrived at in any of the sessions.
- Some want things to be different in their lives but are interested only in 'tea and sympathy'.
- Some would like it very much if others in their life would change but refuse to try anything differently themselves (even how they think about something).
- There are patients who lie to their therapists sometimes which, of course, makes it impossibly difficult to help appropriately.
- I have even had someone say, at the end of a session, wherein we developed a detailed plan about how to deal with a difficult family member, "Oh, I just wish she'd just stop causing problems." It was clear to me at that point that none of the planning we had done was going to be applied.
Nonetheless, we therapists in such situations usually keep trying, every week, to think creatively about the patient's problem, to come up with a new angle of approach, and to maintain our compassion for the person before us.
You can imagine how hard it would be to take criticism in one of these scenarios...!
Lest I end this view on one of the challenges of being in the therapist role on a sour note, I will share with you a wonderful bit of an assessment I received today from a young client of mine---a cute teenager: She said: "I like it that this is like a conversation and I am not feeling like I am getting the 3rd degree! I like having a regular weekly meeting even though I don't always have a crisis, it's nice to know this is here for me in case I do. I'm glad we can laugh together sometimes. I feel like you really care."
That little girl made my day!
Please share your feelings in a comment below or in the reaction boxes.
(This is Part III of the series, The Imperfect Therapist, which has continued to attract many readers; the second post in the series is here: