Therapy Matters

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Dear Dr. Darcy:

I'm a therapist and I'm having difficulty with my clients. Actually, I'm having difficulty with Me. I know that we're trained to believe that a client's success is their own responsibility, but like you, I feel that I owe it to help paying clients. I have a master's degree from a top school and the emphasis of my training has focused on "being where the client is at" and validating their experience and feelings. But I feel like some of my clients who I've worked with for a long time are actually getting worse - not better. The more I validate how awful their lives are and how mistreated they were as children, the angrier they seem to become. My fear is that therapy may actually be making them worse - not better.

ANSWER

Let me start by saying that your clients are VERY lucky to have a therapist who is willing to reflect on the efficacy of his work. GOOD FOR YOU!

As someone who spent a couple decades in therapy herself and as a trained therapist, I have found that there is a tipping point in therapy; a point at which the focus MUST change from validating the old storyline to focusing on what the client wants. When therapists fail to recognize this tipping point, they can absolutely do more harm than good.

It's a fact that when a client rehearses a disempowering story line, their body experiences physiological changes that are harmful to their health: Increase in blood pressure, release of stress hormones, activated nervous system, etc. Initially, the sharing of this story is essential to the healing process, but allowing a client to repeatedly rehearse this type of story is not only bad for their physical health, it creates victims.

We can't change our past. Most of us had fucked up childhoods and repeated many of those patterns into adulthood. I certainly did. But at a certain point, a skilled therapist must help a client to move beyond those wounds, which involves identifying lessons learned, engaging in real forgiveness and focusing on what the client wants rather than what they don't want. This is how therapists help clients to become empowered.

It's an art, really. There's no formula to follow...No blood test or scan that can notify the therapist that they're approaching this tipping point.

I suggest you find a therapist who has what you want and then do whatever is necessary to get that therapist to supervise you. Beg, bribe, or take out a loan. We don't hesitate to get loans to buy a car or to access higher education. The training you'll get will be priceless and will pay dividends throughout your career.

Finally, I'll say this: The fact that you know something's wrong with your methodology (or the lack thereof) tells me that you're not going to be able to continue practicing this way for years to come. If you don't find a more effective way of practicing, you'll eventually burn yourself out. And that would be a shame. Because you sound like someone who has great talent and a desire to serve. So do it for your clients ~ those you have now and those you'll have in the future. Thank you for writing in. It gives me hope for our profession.

Writer’s Stats: Male, Straight.