What’s Your Job as Client and My Job as Therapist?
Here’s a fair summary of therapy: Your job, as the client, is to tell the truth as best you can. My job, as the therapist, is to resist being a critical jerk about what I hear. Together we’ll figure out the solutions to your problems. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know what the truth is sometimes and easy to be a critical jerk. Telling the truth and not being judgmental are difficult because they both touch the natural fear we all have of losing control and the anger we feel when faced with unactualized needs. In short: we like what we like and we like not feeling unsafe.
Therapists are trained for years in how to spot problems, define them, and how to sort them out. Yet, after all that training, the gamble therapists need to take is to set that knowledge aside and just listen. This gives people the space to formulate a clear perspective of themselves and clarity in what’s going on. This allows the client to naturally stumble upon the amazing solutions that the therapist artificially might have learned in school. At the very least, the therapist tweaks the plan. At most, new suggestions based on all that listening are created. Either way, listening is the first step in telling the truth and not being a jerk. When we are given the chance to listen to ourselves, we figure out what we think is true. By not being critical, we can actually listen.
Listening isn’t easy. The first thing you learn, as a therapist, is you’ve been truly not listening your entire life. Sure, there’re pockets here and there of it, but by and large it’s an anomaly. Poets refer to those rare moments as “true love” and “connection.” It makes some sense people hesitate in truly listening because listening carries with it a high price. One has to both deeply care for another person and be vulnerable enough to resist controlling them or the situation. Lastly, it carries the price of being patient. Getting to the bottom of the truth and not getting snagged on the thorns of criticism takes a lot of time. When confronted with problems most people feel like time is the last thing they have. Unless there is actual blood on the floor, feeling like there is no time is an illusion. Making time a partner on your journey as opposed to an enemy to outsmart makes finding truth and being non-judgmentally curious much easier.
The listening gamble is a type of compromise. Usually, we listen to others to solve problems, play with their ideas, or show how smart we are. We’re waiting for the other person to “finish” so we have our chance to shine. The compromise is to keep all those thoughts in mind but with two caveats: 1) Reject the desire for the other person to finish talking so you can begin. Instead, be genuinely curious. 2) Only attempt sharing anything until after the person has finished. And only then, only offer those thoughts when you see the other person wants to hear it them. The bottom line is giving up control and being vulnerable… professionally.