When the Therapist Shares

Some therapists feel comfortable with detachment (or emotional distance) from their clients. Some imagine that they will do their best work as a therapist if they are able to be “objective”. I disagree entirely with this concept and resulting practice. Part of this self-enforced detachment involves not sharing any more than is necessary about their own lives. Of course, the therapy session should always be about the client and his or her needs and keeping a clear boundary between the therapist as a person and in the role of therapist seems a logical way to keep the focus on the client. How would I respond to this?

Sharing Brings Connection

When people are aloof, we either don’t share ourselves, or we find that we are giving much more than we receive. People feel connected when sharing with others and having others reciprocate. These connections help to build positive relationships.

Sharing Brings A More Equal Relationship

When we tell others about ourselves, we give them a form of power. They know things about us that isn’t common knowledge. If one person gives entirely of themselves and receives nothing in return, a one-sided relationship exists – this is not the sort of relationship building that we want to model in a therapeutic relationship. Narrative Therapy moves away from this therapist as “expert” model, to one where the client is the expert in his or her own life. The therapist becomes a companion on the client’s journey of self-discovery. The therapist sharing when appropriate can foster the companionship needed to take this journey together.

Sharing Brings Privileged Positions

If I share something special or intimate from my life with another, I am saying to them that they are special enough to know or be a part of my life. Therapists are in very privileged positions and – only when therapeutically advantageous to the client – sharing with the client can help them to understand that they as clients are also privileged.

Sharing Brings Empathy and Models Behaviour

We want to understand clients in order to help them. Clients need to understand their significant others outside of therapy in order to progress through their issues. It is extremely one-sided to imagine that we can understand clients and that they will have no concept of who we are. This is a very unnatural and one-sided “relationship”. When we share appropriately, we help the client develop empathy for us and we model behaviour that many need to practice in their own lives.

Sharing Emotions Can Be Comforting

When a person is telling you about their sadness, pain, fears or other difficulties and you verbally or tearfully respond (for example), it can help the client to feel comforted and understood. This is not to say that the therapist will respond to all difficulties, but when there is a need or desire to share emotionally and the therapist represses it for fear of boundaries, clients tend to feel this self-imposed distance.

Sharing Limits and Considerations

The therapy session is for the client. The therapist does not share because he or she has a bad day and unloads on the client. The therapist does not share to impress the client. The therapist does not share from personal reasons, but only does so when it is felt that this will help the client. The client should not demand that the therapist shares, as sharing comes in the development of relationships – not from demands.

Sharing With My Clients

As a therapist, I do not want the session to be about me and will not focus on myself generally, but I do understand that the client may want to know more about this person with whom they are sharing their heart and soul. One of the ways that I am able to share of myself with those who want to know more about me is by sharing my thoughts and experiences on this site. Clients and others are able to get a glimpse into me as a person and as a therapist and decide how our relationship might develop.

Looking for a Therapist

Over the years, I have said this many times – find a therapist that suits YOU. Don’t just select a therapist because they are a convenient drive from your house. Don’t just select a therapist simply because someone has recommended this person. Find a therapist with whom you think you will be able to share and who will help you. If you want a counsellor who will share something about themselves, rather than just a single page website and a mobile phone number, do a bit of research online to see what she or he shares with others.

Non-Western Therapy in a Western Therapy Model

I had a discussion about therapy with a psychologist recently. She was saying that we needed more “non-Western” interventions for people of a specific group. This psychologist is herself “Western” (she started our conversation by noting her country of origin). She seemed unwilling or unable to discuss specific ideas or things tried with this group which were “non-Western”, but proceeded to promote the structure of therapist “support” – this includes a system where the therapist has regular meetings with someone considered more senior and works through any issues in counselling others. I smiled as she spoke, wondering if she realised how “Western” this structure – known as supervision – is. In the midst of a conversation where she spoke of offering non-Western therapeutic assistance, she fell back into what she knew. How are we to attempt to break free of dominant modes of operating as therapists, when everything in the professional sphere is part of these dominant modes of therapy? Can we attempt to change the power imbalance of therapy – decentering the therapist for an emphasis on the knowledge, power and expertise of the person seeking therapy – and then fall back into the professional power imbalance of the therapist and supervisor? People learn the vocabulary of empowerment and use it because it is socially acceptable to talk about such, but do not want to give up their own power.

A Campfire Yarn

I dreamed of a group around a campfire – at least I woke to this image. The title for this post comes from the Australian writer, Henry Lawson, but the imagery was from my subconscious. I was visualising a group around a campfire. It could have been a group from a hundred years ago, or ten thousand years ago. I realised this was a common thread in our heritage – coming together in the darkness for protection, companionship, warmth and community. So many images and connections to ourselves as communal beings, ending our day with each other and taking sustenance together.

I realised as I woke that this was not only an image of human community which covered eons of our existence, but it was also an image of Narrative Therapy with groups. There was so much richness – Michael White might have referred to this as a potentially “thick” narrative. I have been trying to conceptualise Narrative group work and I awoke realising that this image would be part of that conceptualisation.

Anyone can walk away from the fire and into the darkness, people are allowed to remain around the fire when they are a part of community (or welcomed guests), individuals are allowed speak (telling stories) while others listen – there is so much to do with the metaphor of the group counselling session and the group/tribe around the campfire and this concept could grow to an analogy between group work and those around the campfire for companionship, protection and nourishment.

As I write down these ideas, I realise the connection between the work of the therapist and his or her own evolving narratives. Not only does this metaphor become a possible vehicle for therapeutic work, but it evolves as part of my own narratives.

That your evolving narratives will bring you strength and joy!

Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns
Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns

Personal Narratives of the Therapist

Deciding how much to share on counselling sites has always been problematic for me. This is most likely an influence from the therapeutic relationship within the counselling session – the therapist keeps personal sharing to a minimum. This makes perfect sense, as the counselling session is not about the therapist and the therapist shouldn’t make it so. The client is the focus. I go by the maxim in therapy of only sharing anything that helps the client on his or her journey. When I am in session and a client asks about my life – a normal tendency of interaction in a less than normal environment – I only share what might be helpful to him or her and then move the conversation from myself.

Having this approach in counselling meant that when I first created a counselling site many years ago, I was a bit unsettled about sharing aspects of my life on the site. What happens to that professional distance? This distance is normal in therapeutic modalities where the therapist is the “expert” and interactions are reminiscent of the doctor-patient relationship. In Narrative Therapy, however, the counsellor is decentred with the focus on the knowledge, expertise and experiences of the client. It is one of the things that drew me to Narrative Therapy. How should a decentred therapist interact outside of sessions?

We all have multiple narratives, strung together in wild and beautiful ways in our lives. The therapist – in this case, me – is no different. My role is not to be a distant expert, but within therapy I will also only share those parts of my life that might be helpful to my clients. This site is different – it is a place where I share my love for therapy, not only for my clients, but also for anyone else who might be in need of assistance or who has an interest in therapy. So, you will find much about me here and that is intentional.

That your evolving narratives will bring you strength and joy!

Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns
Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns

Documentation in Narrative Therapy

There are a number of things that distinguish Narrative Therapy from other modalities of therapeutic work. Some are theoretical and some, like documentation, can be very practical.

Imagine that you have just finished working with a client. You have a fairly standard report that you complete? Why do you complete it? To remember what has happened and (with traditional therapy) to cover yourself legally? The focus of this documentation is not something you usually provide to the client to help him or her on their journey. The client will rarely see any of this sort of documentation.

This focus on audience is a huge distinction. Rather that writing something in a stylised format for a specific industry, rather than writing something in industry specific jargon, rather than writing for colleagues/judges/insurers, in Narrative Therapy you are writing for the person who has come to you for help. You are writing using language the client can understand. You are writing something to help the client along his or her journey.

The founders of Narrative Therapy, Michael White and David Epston note, in Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends, that:

The life of the file [reports generated for a client from therapy] proceeds through the process of ‘retranscription” and in this process the patient’s experience is appropriated and transferred into the domain of expert knowledge. The language of the patient is transcribed into “official language,” everyday descriptions of problems into correct diagnoses – from “feeling miserable” to “displays low affect.” Eventually the patient’s experience is not recognizable within the terms of it original presentation.

* * *

In addition to the role of the modern document in the redescription and presentation of the self of its subject, it has another role that is perhaps more primary in many circumstances. This is the presentation of the self of its author. Documents are shaped by a rhetoric, and this rhetoric serves to establish, in the reader, “a certain impression of the character and the moral qualities of the . . . writer in a given situation” (Haare, 1985). Thus, documents are a vehicle for the presentation and display of the author’s worth according to moral criteria that have been established in a particular discipline. And in so doing, such documents shape the author’s life, as they do the subject’s. (p 189)

Arguably, these post-consultation documents do not emphasise the client, but the therapist, colleagues, the profession, legal and financial considerations.

This was one of the things that strongly attracted me to Narrative Therapy – sitting down at the end of a session and writing a summary of the session that was primary for the client. Writing something that would potentially help the client in therapy – something that would emphasise my experience of the session for the client, which would allow the client to see “progress over time”, something that would become part of the client’s evolving narratives.

Are you, as a therapist, writing primarily for your client, or are you writing primarily for yourself?