|Posted on March 8, 2016 at 8:10 PM|
By Jakota Herring, LCSW
For years I have been fascinated by not only, the "therapy process," but also the question of, "what is good therapy?" How is it that we actually facilitate meaningful and lasting change? Of course we have our various theoretical frameworks, models, modalities, and techniques, but are those sufficient to induce a real shift in paradigm?
Or- is there something more? …. Something beyond books, conferences, and personalities?
What or where is the core, or kernals of truths, or the process that really matters? As I have reflected on what I consider to have been some of my more successful moments as a therapist, some thoughts bounce around that I'd like to share with you.
The first is the concept of "responsibility," in its definitive sense. That is the ability to respond- responsibly. It seems to me that this is a shared process, like dancing. The client presents something, the therapist "responds," and the client hopefully responds in turn. For example, as the client and therapist discuss a dynamic and events of the client's life, the therapist's subconscious may respond with a symbolic metaphor drawn directly from the client's words. The client hears her situation as a differently coded, yet same language description of herself. This strikes a chord of response, whether an emotional reaction, insight, cognitive shift, or whatever. The dance of responsivity continues. It is within this kind of conceptualization that I most often experience along with my clients, unanticipated "happenings" that could never have been learned, planned, or studied.
Those who know me are used to seeing various birds and cats around. My inclusion of pets in therapy often elicits such serendipitous occasions. As an example, years ago I carried a tiny, tame finch to the office with me everyday. He rode in my pocket. (During that time period, he also accompanied me to Nashville stores and restaurants, unseen in my pocket.) The week that my cat did what cats are prone to doing, there were many intense responses from my clients. One man in particular broke through his stoic and insular intellectualization as he raged against "that damn cat," the predator. He then for the first time cried for himself- the long ago pounced upon and wounded little bird.
And who can account for the why and how, when my parrot, Clarence chose the very last termination session after a year of therapy to finally jump onto the shoulder of a surprised child with severe behavior problems. The child had been diligently, patiently, gently, and unsuccessfully trying all year to win Clarence's trust. As a child with ADHD, who was fascinated by the birds, this was a marvelous re-inforcement for patience and perseverance. It was a magical moment for us both. Nothing "therapeutic" was necessary to say.
For the second concept, let me refer to the zoom in/ zoom out feature of computerized maps. I often view myself as a tour guide for the client. I reflect back to him the same map he has presented to me, with the view either zoomed in closer, for deeper understanding, or zoomed out farther, for a different cognitive perspective. Zooming in to illuminate- zooming out to survey the context, towards embracing the largeness of life, with its ambiguities, unknowns, and paradoxes.
I wish I had a nice tidy bow with which to wrap this all together and conclude, but as I caveated in the beginning, these are just some thoughts. Respond to them as you will,
Published in Nashville Psychotherapy Institute's Feb/March 2002 newsletter, "Psychobits"