I had an extremely delayed bing-bing experience yesterday. I was in the lounge with my housemate, talking about what it’s like to be in therapy/counselling and comparing what we each found most and least helpful.
Pretty soon we reached the conclusion that we both have the same general idea about what does and doesn’t help. One thing we agreed on was the fact that although interpretations can sometimes be helpful, more often than not they don’t really add much value to the experience. Also we both said that there is nothing more frustrating than to have a question answered with a question. Especially if it’s concerning something that has taken some courage to ask about in the first place.
To use a more concrete example: Let’s say that you’re in a session and you get the feeling that your therapist is in a bad mood and seems annoyed with you. This is clearly something that will bother you, but it’s not the easiest thing in the world to confront your therapist about, especially since you may not be entirely sure that your reading is correct. So, you let fifteen of your precious fifty-minute hour pass, because you’re unsure how to ask about this without making your therapist even more upset with you. You may even consider not asking at all. But, in the end you do ask the question: “Are you upset with me?” You ask because you really want to know.
There are now two main routes for the therapist to take: The first one – which has been used for years by therapist as a means of turning the focus back on the client – would be to reply with “What makes you ask that?” and although I understand the idea behind responding in this way, I don’t really see in which way this would be therapeutic for the client.
The other route – the one that would seem more obvious, and also more closely related to how things work in the world outside of the therapy setting, would be for the therapist to simply answer the question. Just a simple “Yes, actually, I am a bit upset with you because you’re doing something I have repeatedly asked you not to do. How do you feel about me being upset with you?” (Or, “No, I’m not upset with you, but I do have a cold coming on, and maybe that’s why I seem a bit off?”).
My housemate and I also talked about the fact that quite often it isn’t necessarily what is actually being said in a session that brings about a change in you, but what happens. (Not really a huge newsflash, but still.) Although it is helpful to be able to talk about things that are on your mind, the talking itself doesn’t really change anything. It’s more like a symptom relief. (Like taking a painkiller – it takes away your headache, but it isn’t likely to take away the cause for it).
On to my little bing-bing moment, which followed this part of our discussion: Last year I came to one of my sessions with D. wearing a pair of new trainers. At the beginning of the session D. commented on them, saying that she quite liked them. I have no idea what we talked about in that session, to be honest, but as I was getting ready to leave and I started putting my trainers back on again she realised that they weren’t all black as she had initially thought, but that they actually have skulls and bones printed on the side. She then made a comment about that and asked why – out of all the trainers in the world – did I have to choose the ones with skulls on them? I said something back about liking them and that that particular brand of shoes nearly always came with skulls printed on them. We went back and forth for a bit in a very parent/child sort of way, and in the end I blurted out an incredibly teenagey “Well, it’s lucky you don’t have to wear them then!” (At which I think D. may actually have smiled).
Now, I’ve re-told this little store to quite a few of my friends, but I don’t think I had realised until just yesterday why I have been doing it. I think I probably just put it down to me thinking it was a bit amusing that someone could react so strongly to a pair of trainers and that it was more about D.’s reaction than mine. But, having this discussion with my housemate and again repeating this story to her it suddenly dawned on me that the reason why I’ve held on to that tiny little detail is that it really changed something for me.
As I’ve mentioned before I grew up in a house where disagreements weren’t really accepted at all, and so as a result I was probably the most well behaved kid around throughout my teenage years. I never called my parents names or even shouted at them, in fact I hardly displayed any of the behaviour typical of a teenager. Because I was afraid what would happen if I did.
And now, years later, having had the above exchange with my counsellor, well, it was incredibly liberating. It showed me that it’s ok to get annoyed with someone, or to disagree, and even to express it in a less than thought-through way. The world didn’t stop, nothing bad happened – and it certainly didn’t ruin my relationship with D.
So there you go! A perfect example of how the smallest things can sometimes bring about the biggest changes.
All the very best and more,
PS. I now have red Skullcandy earphones to go with my skull adorned trainers. :þ
BLATANT PLUG: Check out my brand new online store Earthprint Organic Clothing where I sell organic clothes with my own designs printed on them!