Therapy is essentially a healthy relationship.
Emotions are expressed.
Ideas are exchanged and examined.
But none of these is primary.
What is primary is the relationship between the client and the therapist.
The healthier the relationship, the better the outcome.
And the client is half of this important relationship
Which client traits maximize success in therapy?
Which traits slow it down?
THE CLIENT’S HUMANITY
The client is a person, not a “label” or a person with a “disease.”
Clients come to therapy wanting to improve how their life is going.
When they come for the first meeting, therapy is a “fearful hope.”
The fear is about how they will be treated
and the hope is about improving their lives.
If clients are offered respect and kindness,
and if they can accept these gifts,
they will be successful.
If not, they either won’t succeed
or their success will come very slowly.
RESPECT AND KINDNESS
We could list a lot of the rules about respect,
such as those related to confidentiality,
keeping the client as the subject rather than the therapist,
respecting boundaries, and so forth.
(Any therapist who violates these basic rules should be driving a truck.)
What we need to look at most closely, however,
is whether the therapist’s personality is what the client needs.
For example, I am a rather verbal therapist.
I think a few clients I’ve met couldn’t really feel my respect and caring
because they needed someone who would let them talk without interruption.
(I hope they eventually found a less verbal therapist and did well with them.)
If we assume that the client and the therapist are a good match, the question remains:
What can the client do to get maximum benefit from therapy?
WHAT A CLIENT CAN DO TO MAXIMIZE THEIR SUCCESS
A client can help things along by:
1) Telling the full truth.
2) Sharing feelings and degrees of feeling.
3) Understanding the complexity of life’s problems.
Before we discuss these traits further I want to make it clear that all clients
– those who have all of these traits and those who have none of them –
deserve their therapist’s respect, caring, time, and energy.
Each client deserves the therapist’s best.
TELLING THE FULL TRUTH
I like the phrase “brutal honesty.”
It implies that the truth is more important than social conventions that hide the truth.
The goals of therapy are too important to be hidden
due to politeness, embarrassment, or even fear of rejection.
The client hires the therapist and pays the bills.
Hiding relevant facts until the right time (which may never come)
is like holding on to a losing lottery ticket just in case it pays off some day.
Therapy is known for valuing the expression of emotion.
What is also important is whether the degree of expressed emotion
teaches the therapist the relative importance of each issue.
Let’s use crying as an example:
One client may cry often,
but each cry seems to indicate the same degree of emotional pain.
This person gets a lot of relief.
Another client may cry seldom,
but they do mention sadness whenever it is there
and they clearly show whether the sadness is extreme, minor, or in between.
This person gets more help at solving problems.
(Both expressions of emotion are important but the relief must come first.)
Every client wishes the first therapy meeting could solve everything.
Indeed, the first few meetings often do resolve
those problems the client is already prepared to solve.
But the problems that remain after the first few meetings are the difficult ones,
because all of the preparation for these changes has to occur during the therapy itself.
And this preparation takes time, effort, and the therapy relationship.
People who don’t understand this may leave quickly and say:
“I tried therapy, but it doesn’t work.”
They tried getting advice, but they didn’t try therapy.
Therapy is about the relationship.