The Relationship Between the Therapist and Person Seeking Therapy

If you notice, I didn’t entitle this “The Client-Therapist Relationship”….because you are not a “client”, you are a person!

I haven’t forgotten that (despite my 30 plus years as a therapist) in part because I have been the “client” about 10 times in my life. So, I know what it is like to sit in one of my chairs or reach for that door handle as I enter the therapist’s office building…that momentary pause just before I open the door, thinking to myself, “Ok Ed, you’ve got to talk about it…and be honest about it, otherwise, you are wasting your time and money.”

The relationship between the therapist and the person is a tricky thing. I have to be supportive and yet confrontive; be your biggest cheerleader and critic and do it in such a way that you know I care about you.

Traditionally, I believe society has thought of therapists as only supportive; a professional hand-holder as the person suffers through their situation.

While I am empathetic, I am also confrontive. When I was in therapy, I always made the most progress when my therapist would tell me what he/she thought, REGARDLESS of what I thought of their opinion. It wasn’t always easy to hear their opinion, but after a while, I came to trust that they would be honest with me. That trust, along with their empathy, helped me to look at what they were saying to me, think about it and not take offense.  Further, because I felt they accepted me, I could then focus on me; ask myself tough questions about my life, the choices I had been making, etc.

Let’s make this more complicated.

People come into therapy at different levels of readiness to change. Some come in against their will (i.e., the sullen teen forced here by their probation officer, the spouse caught in an affair, etc.), some are just thinking about making a change; some want to make a change but are afraid; some are ready to change and want/need someone to accompany then through the process. Often, I find people come into therapy wanting to change AND not wanting to change…even when they say they are ready to change. Further yet…consider the fact that the process and results of change are often not what we thought or expected.

This is why I think A LOT about how I say things. After 14 years in private practice, that says I have learned how to support and yet confront in a caring way.