One of the harder parts of being a therapist is at times wanting your client’s success more than they do. Deep down, you know that if they could just figure out one thing (or a couple), change that relationship, their diet, or their view point in the world how much better they could be. And what’s worse? Sometimes you deeply care for your client’s wellbeing (joking, it’s obviously very okay to care for them, just not to the point of doing them harm).
But what about when it comes to life or death? What if you’re wanting them to stop doing a drug that will kill them or change a habit that might alter their life in extreme and detrimental ways? This is what’s hard. Because even then, even then wanting it more for our client’s doesn’t meant that they will actually make those changes. We cannot control them (as much as I joke that I wish I had mind control). In fact, even the act of “wanting it more” can push our clients into doing less or wanting it less. In relationships, we call this over-functioning. When one person “over-functions” (i.e. does the others laundry if it sits out for days), the other person will naturally, “under-function” (i.e. happily not even notice a magical fairy is doing their laundry and learn how to be timely about their laundry). This is one of the hardest things I have to do. Let my clients struggle, not want things, and be in their “stuff” without trying to fix it, force it, or change their minds because the idea of them getting better is more comfortable for me. This doesn’t mean that I don’t support their growth and change, but it also means that I can’t and won’t do that work for them. I will teach you how to fish, but I will not throw your rod out every time. Sometimes therapists can also unintentionally create an environment in which their clients feel “dependent” on them. That’s not healthy either.
In summary, I wanted to share that I am still catching myself doing this and learning how to truly “be” with my clients. It is so hard, especially when it comes to what are and feel to be life and death matters. The wanting is a beautiful thing, but it is not helpful. I have to learn to use that desire and balance it with my ability to be helpful by not letting my “anxiety lead sessions” and try to force or do the work for them. This is one of the greater lessons that I am still learning.