A lot of my clients come to me after they have tried many other therapists, counselors, Life Coaches, etc. Why? Well I’m sure there are as many individual reasons as there are clients who find themselves feeling safe and at home with me, even in and through some trying times in their processes, at times. I want to begin this by saying that Mental Health Professionals really need to get out of the box that is so rigidly taught in the pursuit of all degrees. That box, as I’ve educationally experienced it, the box of theories, diagnoses, and practice methodology is one that seeks to not only protect the Mental Health Professional (from whom, client/patient or self?) and also seeks to continue to try to make therapy about a relationship that is inherently unequal in so many ways.
Getting out, staying out, and thinking outside the box, for me, means, not being a rigidly bounded practitioner. Some boundaries are helpful to be tremendously flexible with. This means being more of a human being, opening up at times to clients if they have questions about how they are experiencing their process – our work together. I welcome questions. Questions about how a client feels or what they may think I’ve said, whether or not I was more right on or what I said didn’t fit for them. It’s about equalizing the journey and process that I am invited to share when clients choose to do a piece of their healing or growth work with me.
Getting stuck in the box of this psychiatric label or the other is not the point. The point is to hear the client fully. The point is to see the client fully. The point, for me, is not to focus on my education. In fact, I have always come more from a place of being a wounded healer. I have healed plenty and grown a lot in my life, yes. However, the more I know, the more I know I need to know more. Just as the more that I have grown the more I know I still can and want to grow. The more I work with clients (and I have been doing this sacred work for almost 20 years) the more I see the two-way street of the process.
I have benefited so much from being open to all the learning and personal growth that I have experienced and continue to experience from my clients. Sessions are about the client, yes. But sometimes clients have things to say that as they work on their own growth and self-discovery are teachable moments for me and are gifts. Just as I hope in working with my clients to offer guidance, mirroring feedback and so forth that provides the client with important questions to explore within themselves. However, I do not pretend to have other people’s answers or to be some “expert guru” who you need to work with because you can’t help yourself. Not at all.
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If we are not willing to be open to learning from our clients what would that indicate? To me it indicates again, subconsciously or consciously “us” versus “them” and that somehow so much will be lost with adhering to this false unhelpful notion of a power imbalance that does not favour or help our clients. R.D Laing was one of the first to pioneer this human technique and approach and one that Bob Foss (as you can see in the video below) respected enough and tried and came to some interesting and tested conclusions about clients and what really helps them. An egalitarian approach is far more human, real, and helpful for people dealing with life issues – it’s not “mental illness” it’s life issues and self-protection against the pain of those issues. Safety comes for the client and the willing Mental Health Professional from sharing in real human ways and not adhering to taught rigid “therapist-protecting” boundaries. This does not mean one does not have boundaries it just means being more open and less rigid with the focus still on the client.
What this sacred process of Counseling, Therapy, or Life Coaching needs at its heart is not me thinking that I know it all, at all. The process and my clients need most from me my humanity and my empathy and sometimes for me to share things about my own experiences, when they ask, that gives them even more to consider as they process what they bring to the process and what they are seeking to learn and take away from the journey I am invited on that is the journey of each client. In this way we can “normalize” so much, meaning that we can share thoughts, feelings, and experiences that the client can relate to and feel safe about and learn from in his or her own way. It’s a deeper and more genuine connection.
On Life and Laing: A Walk with Bob Foss (film about R. D. Laing) By Daniel Mackler
My philosophy about working with people has always been that it is a sacred process to be invited into someone’s journey and quest to grow and know more about authentic self. It is also my philosophy that I am a touchstone in that process. My main goals are to help others to help themselves and to help others to open to gaining more self-awareness. Some from me, perhaps, but as much, hopefully more from themselves with my listening and supporting and not judging.
Mental Health Professionals need to get out of the box of inequity. They need to stop the pretense in every client hour that they are somehow above or more evolved or better than any client. All-too-many Mental Health Professionals (subconsciously or) consciously do not reflect enough on how they are not being real with their clients when they keep who they really are totally and rigidly out of the client’s process hiding behind theories and modalities and formal education.
Perhaps it is much more threatening for the Mental Health Professional who hasn’t really had the struggle in their life that clients are having in theirs. Perhaps also too many Mental Health Professionals have not grown enough to be humble stewards of their clients sacred journeys and trust.
Being outside the box means bringing to your work and your clients who you really are and what you have solved or evolved with in your life and what you are still working on. After all, despite education, we are all works in progress.
Not enough Mental Health Professionals trust themselves in an equal relationship with clients that will from time to time challenge them in so many ways. Challenge even who they believe themselves to be. What are they afraid of? Why are they so rigid?
I learned again recently, though I’ve learned this many times in many evolving ways, that being open as person who is not perceived as “perfect for a client hour session” is what it means to not only be real, be honest, be open, and to also have vulnerability as strength in my life and work. I also am reminded when it seems most timely for me that being a healer is a spiritual journey shared with those who choose to work with me. It is bigger than I am. It is certainly not about me. And each session spent with a client is a sacred spiritual honour and responsibility granted to me with which I am entrusted to do the very best I can in all that means every hour spent with each and every client in what it means to be the human being I am.
Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life – 19 Coaching Exercises – End Negative Thought Patterns
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Clients come to us with vulnerability and needs and wants and goals and dreams and they often can’t even see their talents, strengths or gifts for their pain, shame, lostness of self. Is there anything more centrally important than being wide open to equanimity with each client in our shared humanity? I think not. Does it take away from the process? No. In my experience and the feedback I received from most every client I work with currently or have worked with is that my being out of the box, being me, and an individual first in my approach with clients – it’s pretty down to earth too – is what they most appreciate and feel the safest with as R.D. Laing pioneered decades ago when he stepped out of the box.
The Mental Health care delivery system is systemically flawed and unbalanced for all-too-many clients by any and all Mental Health Professionals who insist on working from inside the educational box of theories and diagnostic labels while hiding their humanity and imperfection from their clients in a way that leaves them feeling superior or “healthier” and leaves them perceiving or worse, judging, clients as “less than”. That’s just not real. It’s not appropriate. It’s a false dyadic construct that really cannot honestly serve or help either professional to help the client or help the professional to be effective enough to be a part of a client’s process and not just a witness of or to it.
The clients we work with are people. We are people too. What has to be made so unequal about that and why? The answer would be nothing if not for the fear of too many Mental Health Professionals of being seen as human instead of somehow superior, better, “more together” or even, dangerously enough, “special”.
I choose to be real with my clients. I choose to be a human being working with human beings, not diagnostic labels, and not people that are in anyway “less than”.
Anything less than this is not the forming of any real authentic and truly empathetic therapeutic two-way relationship. We ask clients to connect to us and trust us to help them. Why is that expected that a client would do that in the absence of anything personal or human from his or her Counselor or Therapist or Life Coach needed for a real connection that forms a relationship that forwards basic human bonding that is what so many clients did not get in their childhoods and that is at the core of so much of what they want to heal or growth through.
At the center of each clients and each professional’s reality is some kind of pain, acknowledged or not. The core of that pain, if not healed, is childhood. Professionals who have not done their work and are not open to more self-development in the process of helping others are doing a terrible disservice to people.
People require our genuine presence and caring. They require our educational knowledge and our skills yes, but these are just parts of the process not in and of themselves – the process.
I am so glad that I have had my own journey on the other side of therapy. It has taught me what not to do even more than what to do. Education is great but so much that we are taught is not meant to be the tight little box up on perch of power that we laud over our clients. Mental health professionals need to get out of the box, out of the rigid thinking. Out of the box of “pathology” and the nonsense of “mental illness” is a “brain disorder” along with “mental illness” as a construct. A construct that forwards an awkward and almost abusive stereotyping of (therapist) “I’m Ok,” (to patient) “You’re Not Ok” – that’s not okay!
We are all human and in that humanity there are difficulties to overcome. I believe firmly in meeting any client courageous enough to be on a journey of healing and/or personal growth from a place of respecting all his or her human lived experience and context that has brought them to the process of the work we do.
Yes, when I work with clients, it’s not work I do, it’s work we do, in part together, and in part with the client building skills to do more work on their own and build up their awareness and ability to cope and grow on their own, between sessions too. We need to give the utmost respect to each client on his or her journey.
The sad truth is way too many Mental Health Professionals have lost their ability to just be who they are (if they know who they are) and their humanity to meet a client as a fellow traveler in life and perhaps beyond. What are so many in Mental Health afraid of? What would be so terrible if your client got to know something about you? Clients ask questions. They want to feel we are real people connecting with and to them as they are connecting to and with us or trying very hard to.
The box of theories and therapy modalities is essential to understand to help others, yes. But we don’t have to use that language or ever be less than truly who we are to help others. In fact, that’s the way to be an effective Counselor, Therapist, Life Coach, not the in-the-box rigid adherence to lacking empathy in action and furthering the unhealthy charade of a systemically toxic power imbalance that does not respect the client or his or her humanity and dignity. The human context of every aspect of any client’s journey is what needs to be front and center in what can be, but, for so many isn’t a sacred trusted process.
© A.J. Mahari, December 21, 2014 – All rights reserved.