Monday, March 28, 2016


I have a dear friend who has been hosting for over forty years a late night radio show about psychological and social issues wherein listeners call in to speak about their struggles. He frequently encourages them to seek professional help for their psychological problems. He has shared with me on multiple occasions that the #1 complaint from these listeners who have had unhelpful experiences with psychotherapists and counselors that they have consulted is "I didn't have any sense that they cared about me as a person." Moreover, the literature on effective psychotherapy has consistently reported that when clients are asked what was most helpful to them they say,"my therapist cared about me as a person." As a reader I ask you,"How often in your professional training and supervision was it emphasized to you the importance of treating your clients with compassion,loving kindness and other forms of heartfelt caring?" From my personal experience in my own training,with the therapists that I've supervised and from the responses I get when I tweet about this topic it is an area that is underemphasized and undervalued in most people's training.
I think that there is an overemphasis on the importance of maintaining professional distance. YES, it is important to have appropriate boundaries, especially with clients whose body and psychic boundaries have been violated. YES, our hard-earned knowledge about what produces psychological problems and our techniques for reducing them are important. AND, it is essential that we move away from the hierarchical, superior-inferior aspects that are culturally built into the roles of therapist-client to move to a more deeply human-human interaction. Through our compassion, simple acts of loving kindness, warmth, sharing of relevant personal stories, encouragement, welcoming attitude, celebrations of moments of growth, emotional nurturance.... and other expressions of heartfelt caring we shift the relationship. It becomes more between two human beings, one of whom is suffering, and the other who has expertise that will alleviate that suffering.
YES, it is very possible and liberating to be both a professional and a loving human being.


Ii my daily period of meditational preparation before I open the door to see my clients I pray,"Help me to be a vehicle of peace, brotherhood and love with my clients today." [In prior blogs I have talked about being a vehicle of love and peace] With this prayer my intention to place my lifework as a psychotherapist into a larger context - an acknowledgement of our connection of human to human, of the interconnectedness of all beings. The word brotherhood is the term I am using for this connection. Perhaps, if I were a woman I would use the word sisterhood.
Underneath our roles of client-therapist is this human to human connection. When we share relevant aspects of our personal stories that reveal our empathic connection to what our client is discussing we are breaking down barriers to heart to heart connection and underscoring, without minimizing their suffering, that their struggle is part of our common human journey. When we show our caring in whatever way fits for this particular client and our unique personality we are honoring our heart to heart connection. Our clients experience this genuine caring at multiple levels of consciousness. AND, it makes them more receptive to our techniques, insights and suggestions.
It is a massive understatement to say that we live in an area of great divisiveness wherein the experience of "other" as different, inferior/superior, frightening is pervasive throughout most cultures.It is well beyond the limits of a brief blog to even attempt to discuss the why's of this increasing sense of separateness. However, rather than be overwhelmed and paralyzed by the bigness of the problem we can help our clients develop a greater sense of brotherhood/sisterhood and thereby contribute to some of the change that needs to happen.
First,by being both a professional therapist/counselor and a loving human being we are modeling for our clients a way of being in all the varied roles of their lives.
Second, by exploring with them what aspects of their personal histories have contributed to their inner self-criticalness ands judgmentalness of themselves. Then discuss with them how that is directed toward others. It is these aspects of each client's inner landscape coupled with the fear of being vulnerable to psychological attacks by others that contribute to their defensive barriers to a deeper human to human interaction.
Third, in addition to their personal history it is important to discuss the impact of living in the competitive atmosphere of Western culture. This underlying competitiveness - which is so insidiously pervasive that we are usually unaware of its psychological impact - places us in an adversarial position with others. I have found it quite helpful to explore this often unexamined territory with my clients to help them move from an adversarial relationship to a greater sense of feeling their common humanness.
Imagine the ripple effects if thousands of therapists and counselors were helping their clients feel a greater sense of brotherhood, a deeper valuing of our human to human connection.