Case #90 - When the client is more aware than the therapist

Martin had an acute sense of fairness. The context was that his parents asked a great deal of him, but offered him only criticism.

This set the tone for our interaction. If I did anything in the therapy without being aware of it, whereby it was in some way for my own benefit, he would immediately notice it and remark on it.

I was always happy to examine his criticisms and concerns. I would acknowledge the validity of them, recognise where it was I was not aware of my own self interest, and talk about that explicitly.

In Gestalt, as a dialogical therapy, it is essential to be willing to own places where I might go out of awareness. This happens to therapists as well. Most clients will not notice, but some are very attuned to this. This is actually very positive for the therapy.

But it means as a therapist I must be willing to be non-defensive, to look for the grain of truth in the clients concerns, fears, and accusations. This not only defuses the situation, it provides a reparative healing experience for the client. And as therapist, I also learn something about where I go out of awareness - I am confronted. It’s also an opportunity for me to recognise my own self interest, and where and how I may hide that in the guise of 'helping'.

Small things are of note here - my tone of voice, how fast I speak, what I choose to focus on. With clients like Martin, it’s necessary to be as aware of my dynamic as his. It’s easy as therapist to focus on the client, what they are doing, their process. But harder to focus on ours. And even harder when the client is aware of my process, but I am not. There’s potential to feel shame there for me, but I move beyond this by adopting a welcoming attitude towards all feedback and criticism, and always am ready to look for the truth in it, and admit it.

Posted by Steve Vinay Gunther