Clients carry a belief and hope that therapists know what they don’t; that we can solve their issue. ‘Solving the issues’ translates, often, as having ‘the answer’. However, it is when, we connect with what we don’t know, and can’t know, that something amazing happens. It becomes possible to live the question and explore the terrain with new eyes. Attention is drawn to the conversation that isn’t being had or the shadow of what is initially thrust into the light. Light and shadow are inextricably bound together and it is the dance between them that leads to a perception from which we create meaning.
Layered into this is how therapists come into relationship with the phenomenon of this dance. At the confluence of the client and therapist’s stories, our personal perspective becomes an integral part of shaping the perception. This manifests within and finds expression through the co-created relationship. Standing in a different place can enable a transition from meaninglessness to meaning; a fragmented image can suddenly take on shapes we never expected.
As therapists I think we are tasked with standing and exploring from different perspectives and reflecting, with open curiosity, to support our clients in the meaning-making of their lives. Instead of holding the answers we ask the questions and explore perspectives, expanding and deepening the client’s self-view.
Research has identified ‘hope’ held by the therapist as a particular indicator of ‘successful’ client experience. Perhaps it is semantics, but for me, it is less about ‘hope’ and more ‘faith’, not in any religious/spiritual sense of the word but one that takes the guise of ‘trust’. Whilst ‘trust’ is intrinsic in ‘hope’ it is not explicit enough in the lived and felt experience of all that is possible in the I-Thou relationship. Trusting in the process enables me to sit with unknowns and to remain open and curious. If I were to ‘hope’ then I might miss the ‘hopelessness’ in the client. If I leap to what is possible then I miss the struggle and impossibility in what they bring. In other words, I would lose the shadow and in turn lose the full dimensional perspective of the experience.
The criticism that therapy becomes entrenched in shadow or remains unhealthily attached to suffering may invite a turn away from what lurks in the shadows to focus on the light. However, if we focus exclusively on the ‘hope’, then perhaps we risk hoping for the wrong thing. Can we tell the difference between our personal hope and that of the client? Can hope seduce us into unhealthy collusion?
In promoting light exclusive of shadows we risk communicating that we hold the solutions as opposed to supporting resolution within the client. We become too powerful at the risk of disempowering the client. Because what is implicit in this dynamic is that ‘we know’ and ‘they don’t’.
The challenging implication for therapists, in this invitation to work with the light and the shadow, is that it brings us into direct relationship with our own personal dance. What we carry in the light and in our public story of us as therapists who want to make a difference, sits alongside the shadow and private story of why we are compelled to do so.
The drive to make difference and the pull towards mastery in the face of adversity combine to make it incredibly natural for us to avoid the hopelessness in a client’s story; maybe even in our own story.
This throws a spotlight on the absolute and essential value of the supervision process in our therapeutic work. To co-create, with another professional witness, a safe space for reflection. The gifts we gain in that safe space with like-minded colleagues and mentors ripples out into the work with clients and subsequently into the wider world through them. Good quality supervision resources us to wait without hope and dance in the darkness that is light.
This is an edited version. The full article can be read on the Zoetix website. Click here http://zoetix.com.au/reflections-on-practice/