The other day I had this perfectly rounded therapy session with one of my clients. So I am tempted to write about it.
The client is an MFT Intern, (let us call her N.), so a therapist in training. I find it very enjoyable to work with wanna-be-therapists as they have the lingo and the concepts and, when they have been at the JFKU Holistic program, they have already come up against their own inner issues and so are ready to do the work.
Every so often N. brings up one or more of her clients to process her counter-transference. This time she wanted to process her experience with a white male client. She felt she colluded with him, by boosting his self-esteem and validating his accomplishments. Nothing wrong with boosting self-esteem or validating achievements, you say, right? But she felt he has a sad and hurt inner child, who is hiding inside of him and who never gets acknowledged in their sessions. The times she has tried to bring up inner feelings she has been rebuffed by this client, and so she feels nervous about even broaching the topic. Hence the term colluding.
She had made a drawing on the previous evening, which was of him standing with his arms up in the air in a kind of inflated posture. She was standing next to him, focused on him and celebrating him with her gestures, pointing to him and boosting him, while her own sad little inner girl stayed inside herself. She embodied all this in front of me as she talked about her drawing. We talked a little about what she felt in the sessions with him. We explored her unwillingness to confront him about his feelings, coming from her desire to please him and to not offend him etc. I mentioned that she has brought up this theme in previous sessions of ours. My terminology, as well as my tone, led her to remark “you say XYZ as though it is all in my head.” I countered with “Isn’t it?” in the sense that our narratives about our realities create our experiences and their flavours, which in turn shape our narratives and so on.
We are both from eastern countries in ethnicity, so we get this kind of stuff. It is part of our collective consciousness. She has a Buddhist spiritual practice, and I have the practice of Kriya Yoga as my spiritual path. She accepted the statement without any debate (in this session), and we proceeded with our work. She wondered if spirituality and connecting with the divine or God was the solution to all problems, which then begged the question ‘what was she doing in therapy’. I reflected her question back to her.
After some more time in this vein, I invited her to connect with her inner child. She was a little reluctant at first saying that she had done this kind of work ever so often in the past. I remarked that what she had brought up about her client may even be true of us. So I invited her to just try it one more time. She agreed; probably intrigued by the idea.
We connected with her inner child of 7 or 8 (?), and she articulated a lot of her feelings and experiences. She was fluid and direct in her expression. She spoke of having been neglected, and of the parents being more concerned with what looked right, rather than what she was actually feeling. As I responded to her and asked N. to respond to her little inner girl, she realised that she does now what her parents used to do to her as a child. This was not a complete shock since she is a therapy student!
The little inner girl also acknowledged that N. did care, but was often scared of not conforming to expectations. As the dialogue proceeded I informed the little girl about a secret viz. that the essence of children is Joy. She agreed, with the stipulation that it only happens when the children are appreciated and not put down etc. I informed her that all that was in the past. In the present moment, no one was putting her down or ignoring the little girl inside. Now she could choose to be free of all that baggage.
We have done some work on how our attitudes influence our feelings and how we choose to feel bright and happy or sad and morose according to what we opt to focus on. N had been incorporating that insight into her outlook and coming into sessions saying I can say the week went well or poorly based on how I look at it, and I have been validating her agency in how she feels. She made a choice to feel the joy and the freedom and embodied it. As she was feeling the joy in her body, she squiggled and squirmed around on the couch with it, while giggling. As she played with that feeling of joy, she stood up and raised her arms almost like her drawing of her client. I spontaneously went over to her and adopted the posture she had held as the therapist. We laughed and celebrated the moment. I saw a shade of uncertainty in her eyes and affirmed that it felt genuine and authentic. She agreed and left the session on a happy note.
It was an almost picture perfect ending and one that prompted me to write it and present it as an article.
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