Friday, June 18, 2010

What is Therapy? Part I

Welcome back to PsychoBLOGgle! As promised, today I will share my thoughts on therapy- so let's get started.

First and foremost: therapy is a relationship, and it is most effective when a comfortable and collaborative relationship is established between the client and the therapist. Research has consistently demonstrated this (e.g., Frank and Gunderson, 1990), and I have experienced this in my own work with clients. I have had more than one client share with me that he/she terminated therapy after a couple of sessions due to a lack of comfort with the therapist. This does not mean that some therapists are better than others, but instead demonstrates the importance of the "therapeutic alliance" in the therapeutic process.

So now you may be wondering how this relationship is formed- this is a complex question that I can not answer. Think of your own relationships- why are you drawn to those who you have chosen to have in your inner circle? There may be tangible reasons, like shared interests or experiences, but there's probably an element of "je ne sais quios"- that thing you can't put into words but contributes to the bond you share with those close to you. I believe that the "je ne sais quios" plays a large role in the development of the therapeutic alliance because the more tangible elements of a "traditional" relationship are not present.

The therapist/client relationship is an unusual one. I use the word "traditional" above to describe relationships in which there exists mutual exchange among the participants. The therapeutic relationship differs from this because it is a one-sided relationship- all of the energy and attention is focused solely on the client's needs. Clients sometimes struggle to adjust to this reality, especially the ones who are used to focusing the majority of their energy and attention on others. To many it feels odd to sit in a room with another person for about an hour and talk only about oneself- I have actually had clients tell me this directly. It may feel uncomfortable at first but over time clients adjust to the process and understand the role that each person (e.g., the client and the therapist) holds in the relationship.

This seems like a good stopping point for now. When I began writing this morning (yes- I started this post this morning!) I realized that I have a lot to say about therapy and should take my time walking through the process with you. Look for Part II of "What is Therapy" on Monday- at that time I will discuss the role of the therapist and the client. One thing to keep in mind- and I will remind you of this on Monday- is that therapists may have differences of opinion about their role and the role of their clients due to philosophical differences. So the post on Monday will reflect my philosophy of therapy.

Be well this weekend and enjoy your rest.

Dr. Stanley

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