Question: -- When Should a Deep-Feeling-Oriented Therapist "Technique" a Client?

by Paul Vereshack M.D.

(Notwithstanding his M.D. Dr. Vereshack is not a licensed physician)

I personally believe that therapy should unfold in a natural and organic way, connected to the deeper rhythms, content and associations of the client. It should not ever be a moment to moment journey dependent upon my idea of what needs to happen next, beyond the simple dictums of staying within each significant feeling, as it comes up and in its own order.

I do not believe in short circuiting this process with "clever" techniques.

Such techniques place the responsibility for therapy squarely on the shoulders of the therapist. They also seductively remove the client's own inner connections. Therapy becomes something that the therapist does to the client, rather than something the client does from a place deep within his or her self.

This can occasionally lead to the truly frightening moment when a client looks at us after experiencing something for which they were not yet ready and asks, "What have you done to me?" When I hear this I get visions of court rooms.

In my younger days, I wanted, no, in fact, I needed to be potent in my work. I learned and applied many clever techniques, especially in the area of Gestalt Therapy. I was a "two chair" expert.

I began to exhaust myself by always taking the lead, and dug myself deeper and deeper into this position. The result, of course, was a gradual build-up of resentment in me, when my clients didn't seem, in the end, to progress in a way that was in keeping with my brilliance. I also got more and more angry at their lack of motivation, or at their not developing a motivation and style that left them dancing, as elegantly as I was.

Finally, I realized that I was putting the cart before the horse.

The need to be potent, and to matter, and to make a difference, and especially to be loved had turned me into a better and better mechanic with an inexhaustible bag of tricks. My clients responded by expecting more and more displays of cleverness. They became a little like seals surfacing for a bigger and bigger fish from the hands of a trainer.

My agenda replaced theirs and derailed the absolutely core process of their associations leading the way deeper and deeper into their own depths, which is the only safe and true course; the one which honors the idea that "readiness is all." Without this on-going readiness for each new feeling and each new connection we bring clients to a terrible and rigid pseudo-wisdom.

It is not uncommon for instance to have clients and their therapists talking proudly of the birth-work that they are doing, when at the same time they are in deep and intrusive trouble with their own families or work associates. This happens when therapists bypass, or "jump" clients over their current pain, in an elegant demonstration of just how deep their therapy really is.

It seems to me that therapists pursuing their own needs in this way, are like those who graft a branch of one tree on to another. The result is often a strange sense of growth incongruence in the client coupled with a feeling in the dispassionate observer that these people have been "therapist cloned." Therapist clones have a strange kind of self assurance which indeed has a kind of "grafted on" feeling. They make great proselytizers for their therapists, and proceed to make the same mistakes later with their own future clients. The whole thing just goes on and on forever.

Now the truth is that I do use "techniques" myself. I quite consciously use a reflective style. In fact it is a delight to me to feel the accuracy of a comment I may make back to a client when I have hit the bulls eye of both what they mean, as well as uncovering what they feel.

I like to think that this "technique" is responding to and remaining within client process.

When in addition it is based in staying with feelings and body sensations, and moves forward from within the client's own readiness to do so, then and only then, do we really have an ever deepening client-centered process.

It is also true that when a someone has been stuck for a long while, I have seen others using techniques such as gentle massage to facilitate my clients back into their process. I am certainly grateful for these occasional well-placed moments of help.

What I am objecting to so strongly is therapist "push" as an ongoing patient manipulation.

As I have come of age both personally and professionally, one of the largest triggers of despair in me is denial. Certainly, I have found a fair portion of it in myself.

I also find it, in large measure, within therapists who insist of directing and manipulating their client's work. No matter how often I point out to such a therapist that they are taking away the client-centered base which is so vitally necessary to healthy growth, they simply do not hear me.

Client manipulation is so invisible a defense for the practitioner (ego syntonic), and so deliciously caters to our need for power and significance that it remains quite invisible to us across the years, and most times even across an entire life-time of practice.

Why then do I bother to talk about it at all? I do so in the hope that lay people who read these articles will be on the alert for therapists who conduct their therapy as though clients were their own personal orchestra. I hope that these clients will be able to say to their "wisdom teachers", in no uncertain terms, "Get your fingers out of my brain."

To therapists I would say, Do not ripen your clients before their time, unless you want to replace the flow of their processes with your own.

Paul Vereshack M.D.

Other pages on this website about Dr. Vereshack's writings include:

Book Review of Help Me -- I'm Tired of Feeling Bad
The Primal Page's Favorite Quotations from Help Me -- I'm Tired of Feeling Bad
The Primal Psychotherapy Page Interviews Paul Vereshack, M.D.

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