As practitioners, we constantly find ourselves in highly challenging positions.
We try our very best to assist those in need of our services while attempting to stay as mindfully present as possible with deep and (often unnecessary) suffering.
From this universally humanistic challenge, I began reflecting on what we actually do in our therapeutic work, and my realizations actually startled me a bit. I asked a question I’ve never asked before: “What are we really doing in therapy?”
From Stranger to Fellow Human
We are “in the room” with our fellow human beings who were complete strangers the very second before they contacted us for help. And now these former strangers are baring their souls to us, expressing what they may not have expressed to any other human being on the planet.
Think about that for a minute. Let that really sink in.
But we somehow knew them, or parts of them, before they reached out to us.
We already knew there was intense and deep suffering out there. We already knew that suffering comes in just a few basic forms – chaotic lives, rigid lives, avoidant lives, caged lives. Or a maddening combination of them.
We already knew that overdoing avoidance of our internal experience can compound the deep shame we already feel. Or that overdoing of impulsive action can lead to regret and confusion.
So our clients were not really strangers after all.
They are our kin, our brothers and sisters in this bizarre, painful, and beautiful experience we call living.
The Non-Dualistic Meaning of Psychotherapy: Clients as Both Strange & Familiar
So the next time you are waiting for your client to arrive, see if you can place this non-dualistic idea in your compassionate awareness:
…that we simultaneously already know the suffering that befalls our clients, and yet we can be utterly humbled and awash in beginner’s mind as we bear witness to our clients’ courage to be vulnerable, exposed, and perhaps as raw as they might ever be.
So now when I contemplate the question, “what are we really doing in therapy?”, I can reflect with greater appreciation for the simultaneously realities of the strange and the familiar. Perhaps we can approach our therapeutic endeavors as though we bring a genuine and deep curiosity to this particular human being as our next client. But this particular person has always been a part of the larger whole of humanity with which we are profoundly familiar.
Please 1) Leave a comment below and 2) share with a colleague to spread the thriving therapy love!
Be well in all your therapeutic encounters, both strange and familiar,
Matt – thank you for bringing attention to this aspect of the amazing opportunity and privilege it is to be a therapist. Even as we strive to form therapeutic alliance early in therapy it can be easy to overlook this remarkable aspect of what we do.
Thanks, Chris! Yes indeed. The forming of therapeutic alliance comes with its depth and preciousness. Intersting to also think about how this all starts before we even meet the person. So much of the therapeutic alliance has seeds within the therapist and client alike prior to being in the same room together.