By Elizabeth O’Brien, LPC
Many clients come in for therapy expecting the counselor to “fix them.” Yet when the counselor explores the problem(s)—asking critical questions, gently challenging negative or irrational thoughts and beliefs, reframing the meaning of the presenting issue, and then suggesting specific initiatives—clients often resist. They say they have either tried everything the therapist suggests, or that whatever the therapist is encouraging them to do “wouldn’t work” for them. They are not, needless to say, in a state of readiness.
Therapy is a collaboration, a relationship. By definition, it involves mirroring and reciprocity. And the client must take personal responsibility. No matter what the situation, playing the victim does not lead to healing. It keeps the client facing backward, into the past. It keeps the client in an incongruent state, in which he is denying his true, best self. The fact is, life is not fair. So what else is new?
Ideally, the counselor “joins with” the client on the client’s journey, supporting and encouraging him or her as he navigates life’s difficulties and disappointments. Most importantly, the counselor guides the client toward accessing his innate resilience. I believe that there is a part within every human being that is whole, healthy and strong. That part may be deeply buried and obfuscated by ambivalence, but the spark is there. The therapist’s job, in my mind, is to help the client find it, excavate it and allow it to breathe and flourish.
The “fixing” is a joint effort, with far more “credit” going to the client.
When a client is unhappy, but has definitively made the commitment to change, the therapist is empowered to do her job.