Imagine you’re a traveller, who has hired a guide to take you on a journey. You’re wanting to start a good relationship with them, but you’re also wanting to make sure that they take you where you want to go, at a pace and in a manner that you can tolerate.
These terms of the contract often remain undiscussed at the beginning of therapy. Your therapist has seen many people before and has developed their own routine. They’re probably expecting you to go tamely along with them, trusting their experience. But the present encounter may be your only foray into therapy; you want to make sure it goes well. So you need to say if there are things you know you do or don’t want in the therapy process. Only, if you’re a newcomer to therapy, you may not know what you like or dislike until it happens.
When therapy doesn’t work for people, it’s often because such negotiations never take place and a misunderstanding develops between therapist and client: guide and traveller are wanting to go in different directions, by different means, at different rates. The client may say nothing because they think they have to like it or lump it. The first the therapist knows about the matter is when the client doesn’t turn up. The impasse could have been avoided if the client had spoken up earlier. You need to speak up if you’re not satisfied with what you’re getting.
What makes the negotiation more complicated is that the client is often in two minds about going for therapy at all. One side of them may want to move forward, whilst another side wants to avoid facing their problems. In fact, you may have a whole bus-full of conflicting views in your head about what you want from therapy.
Getting everyone on board the bus
So part of the therapist’s job in the first few sessions is to get to know your different sides and help the passengers in your mental bus to decide how far they all willing to go together. Your job is to voice your reservations and the inner conflicts that are pulling you in different directions. You need to own up to sides of yourself which you may not want to have aboard, stowaways who are going to make their presence felt in the journey of therapy, and could halt the process if their needs are not met. Perhaps one side of you is feeling somewhat superior and not in need of therapy. Another side may be feeling vulnerable and scared that the therapist may stray into an area which is unbearably painful. Both sides need reassurance that the therapist will take account of their perspective.
If you and the therapist can manage your different sides in therapy then the journey can go forward. From week to week different sides may be in charge, with different priorities. If so, then therapy will dart from topic to topic, rather than being a straightforward progression. Only when you feel wholeheartedly that you have one objective will you find the direct route of an established treatment plan helpful.
These are the kinds of considerations which I deal with in my Journeybuilding™ approach to personal change. Read on to find out more.