You are part of the action!

When we are conducting therapy it is not uncommon for many of us to feel as if we are outside observers as to what is going on with our clients. We think we have a different perspective as we are not directly experiencing what they are experiencing. We often hold that we can be objective as we are outside the action that is taking place in our clients’ lives. Even though this view sounds logical, it may be that this view is limiting our ability to create change for clients.

When we have this perspective as being outside the interaction our clients are engaging in, we can sometimes struggle to adjust their behaviors and thoughts in order to create a shift in clients. If, on the other hand, we view ourselves as being part of the interaction, we find that our very presence can create openings for change to occur. Let us consider how being a part of the interaction is different from interpreting clients’ actions.

If we are interpreting clients’ actions as an “outside observer”, we can only give clients our perspective. This can sometimes be helpful but it can also just take the form of merely giving information. Having information can be helpful but it does not guarantee that our clients will change anything in their lives. Just knowing information does not create an experience for clients to feel firsthand what the adjustment to the pattern of interaction is like. Some clients may take the information they are given and run with it but many will hear it, think about it and find that nothing changes as the patterns of interaction have not been altered.

In contrast, by assuming that you are now part of the pattern of interaction, it becomes much easier to create therapeutic shifts in clients by the use of your own behavior. If your therapy session is an interactive process that now incorporates you the therapist (which it is), anything you do on your part to adjust the interactional patterns can result in shift in those patterns. By no longer believing you are outside of the interaction, you now have the ability to adjust the patterns clients bring to therapy by merely adjusting yourself.




As Keeney wrote in the classic text, “Aesthetics of Change” (1983):
“The traditional view is that a therapist treats a client through a given intervention. However, it may be useful for a therapist to imagine a client’s behavior as an intervention. His interventions, so to speak, attempt to provoke the therapist to come up with a useful directive or solution. In this reverse view the therapist’s behavior is problematic when he fails to help the client. Treatment is successful; when the client provokes the therapist to say or prescribe the appropriate action.”

Essentially, the patterns of interaction involve the therapist and to believe the therapist is not a part of the interaction is limiting to the ability of the therapist to create changes in those patterns. By changing yourself in the session, your clients cannot help but be impacted. Any action you take to shake up the pattern will be felt by your clients, unless all you are doing is giving them more and more information.

Since you are a part of the interaction, imagine how freeing this can be to you as a therapist! You no longer have to rigidly adhere to treatments and theories. No matter what therapeutic orientation you have you can become more effective as your mere presence in the session is able to open the doorway to new possibilities.

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