- How to Become an Irreverent Therapist
I recently came across an old article while doing some research that really got me thinking in a different direction. The article was written by Cecchin, Lane and Ray and published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy in 1993. It is entitled “From Strategizing to Nonintervention: Toward Irreverence in Systemic Practice”. The article discusses the shifting of focus in systemic therapy away from cybernetics and directive interventions and towards nonintervention and a focus on narrative (this shift was a huge mistake in my opinion). In the article, the authors suggest that in order to avoid the trap of being constricted in any way, therapists may want to embrace irreverence in their clinical work. This will enable them to avoid any potential limitations. It is a fantastic article that still has applications today. I was so inspired by the authors’ ideas that I wanted to share them, along with my own thoughts about how to become an “irreverent therapist.”
How to become an Irreverent Therapist
To be able to act without any restrictions on effectiveness, irreverent therapists need to take 100 percent responsibility for the actions they take and the directives they give. They must be willing to do anything within ethical guidelines to create the conditions for change to occur. If a therapist needs to be silent for the whole session in order to create change, she will. If a therapist needs to be confrontational in order to create change, she will. If a therapist needs to jump up and down on the couch singing songs from the 1960s to create change, she will. An irreverent therapist has an incredible amount of flexibility because her client is the focus of the session, not her theory.
This will mean that the therapist will have to abandon any concepts, ideas, theories, or beliefs which could hamper the successful outcome of treatment. To quote Cecchin, Lane, and Ray, “therapists should maintain a healthy disrespect for any idea which restricts therapeutic maneuverability and creativity.” If you want to be an irreverent therapist, it is crucial that you successfully overcome any desire to stick to predetermined theory or technique that is regarded as the gospel truth. Any allegiance to a dogma is to quickly be rejected in order to flow with the moment as you and your client interact. Practice laughing maniacally when you hear that a specific theory or technique is labeled “the best”.
An irreverent therapist will go out of his way to undermine and create havoc in the rigid beliefs and patterns of his clients. The order of the day is to embrace playfulness and see what happens when an inspired, uninhibited shrink gets to have fun. The irreverent therapist is also expected to poke holes in his own beliefs and patterns as he weaves a web of possibilities in his interactions with his clients. Uncertainty is not only embraced but encouraged in the therapy room. Any viewpoint the therapist or client takes as an absolute certainty in the session must be disregarded and discarded in favor of pure spontaneity and aliveness. Any certainty that the problem the client brings is unsolvable needs to be immediately dismantled in the therapy session. Spend time observing mastery of the absurd by watching a Marx Brothers movie or a Samuel Beckett play (these are much more enjoyable and teachable than most therapy textbooks).
An irreverent therapist pays little attention to how problems got started. He or she will be mostly focused on how things can shift and change. Investigation into past history and narrative explanations are kept to a minimum as the therapist redirects focus away from problem investigation and towards an exploration of client strengths and resources. Diagnostic labels are regarded with much suspicion and even disdain (maniacal laughter can be used here as well).
Try on the mantle of “Irreverent Therapist” for a week. Put it on your business cards. For this title there are no expensive, long term trainings to attend in order to obtain some silly certification. All that is needed is an openness to absurdity, an embracing of compassion, and a sense of humor.
- Interviewed by Rob McNeilly
I was recently honored to have been interviewed by Dr. Rob McNeilly. Rob is a medical doctor, a direct student of the late therapy wizard Dr. Milton H. Erickson and the founder of the Center for Effective Therapy in Tasmania. Our quick interview covers such topics as the role of expectancy in therapy, research into the therapeutic use of hoodoo, and how clients can be therapists’ best teachers.
Rob is a masterful trainer in Solution Oriented Therapies and Ericksonian Hypnosis. As a matter of fact, he is now offering a new comprehensive and hands-on online program “Easy Hypnosis – A Common Everyday Approach after Erickson”. This great program has text, audios and videos so the principles can be readily learned and easily incorporated into one’s clinical practice (whatever your previous experience of hypnosis may be). It includes 6 one hour video coaching calls. I highly recommend this experience and urge you to explore the possibilities. Rob tells me that registration will only be open until April 25th, so if you’re interested, don’t wait.If you are interested in learning the Ericksonian approach to hypnosis from a true expert and direct student of Dr. Erickson, there are details here.
- Theoretically speaking…
A theory is a generalized explanation and body of knowledge about how something operates. These explanations are used to predict and assume outcomes for specific actions. A theory stands if the results can be consistently replicated by researchers under similar conditions.
In the field of psychotherapy, research seems to come out daily promoting one theory of therapy over another. Each theory proponents pushes their theory to be the most effective and often have substantial research as evidence to its effectiveness. The rigor shown by these researchers can be impressive and their work has created shifts in, not only the content of educational training, but also funding for programs which are designed to assist the public with mental health issues.
I remember talking with one therapist who told me that the only real reason he started using his theory of therapy was that it was “evidence based”. He had not tried any other forms of therapeutic interventions because he felt there was not as much research to back up other theories. He said close to seventy five percent of his clients got better using his approach. My question to him was, “What about the other twenty five percent who don’t change?” He politely changed the subject at that point.
Even though there are some great aspects to having a solid theory of how to do therapy, these theories can sometimes become cumbersome and limiting if we think each individual will automatically fit into our theory. Our clients may not have received the memo that they are to respond a certain way at a certain time due to a certain intervention. When the client does not fit the theory presented by the therapist sometimes the client is then labeled “resistant”. When a client is seen as resistant due to his or her inability to conform to the will of the therapist, the therapist may then become frustrated, angry, feel ineffective or become burned out due to his or her strict adherence to their theory.
The best way to handle the “resistant” client is to throw away your theory. This may be blasphemy to many who cling to their theories in a dogmatic, evangelical way. Many times our theories are good for some clients but not good for others (the twenty five percent). If all we have is one way to assist others we may find ourselves surrounded by “resistant” clients who make us work too hard, feel defeated and uninspired in our vocation. When we allow ourselves to create new interactions in the moment with each new client without a set scripted theory, we may find that every therapeutic encounter can feel much more exciting and creative. What if every client needed his or her very own theory of therapy?
The great scientist Karl Popper believed that theories by nature are abstract, and can only be tested in reference to their implications. Popper asserted that a theory is irreducibly conjectural and brought about by our imagination to solve problems that have come about in a distinct cultural and historical context. He felt that the truth of any theory cannot be verified by scientific testing. It can only be falsified.
To quote the brilliant family therapist Carl Whitaker: “I have a theory that theories are destructive.” Whitaker argued that too much reliance on a theory can cause a loss of objectivity for each unique person and situation. He felt this could result in a loss of compassion and care for the client. He argued that clinicians should consider give up strict adherence to theory and become alive as a real person in their sessions. As he eloquently put it, “Part of the problem is the theoretical delusion that science is curative; that enough knowledge, enough information, the right kind of facts will bring about the resolution of life’s doubts, the resolution of all distress.” I think Carl got this one right.
- Are You Ready to be Creative?
If you have spent any time reading my blog or listening to my podcasts you know that I am a big proponent of using creativity in psychotherapy. I see too many good therapists who could be amazing therapists if they would just allow themselves to be more creative in their work. The straight jacket many therapists put on themselves by strictly sticking to the textbook can inadvertently dampen their effectiveness.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s time to fall back in love with your work, have more fun, and gain the confidence to embrace more playfulness in your practice. This is why I am excited about this upcoming event.
I’m speaking at a virtual event Create Fest 2016 that you can attend from the comfort of your home.
Create Fest is all about empowering therapists like you to awaken your creative spirit and reignite your passion for your work. What we do as mental health professionals is vital to healing in the world, so my fellow speakers and I are passionately committed to helping you revitalize and enhance your practice.
Join me and a dozen of my “outside the box” colleagues. Each of my fellow speakers brings a wealth of experience, insight, and one of a kind creative thinking to the mental health field. Come discover some new approaches.
Each day, you’ll get to watch 6 fun and inspiring interviews PLUS 6 live experiential activities, designed to help you integrate and prepare to apply what you learn. This is not your average professional development conference! Create Fest 2016 will be 2 days of powerfully playful and practical ways to invite more creativity into your practice.
To sign up for this unique event, go HERE
If you are ready to have fun, be inspired and learn to expand your effectiveness as a therapist, then I know that I will see you there.
- Brief Reflections on Erickson Congress 2015
I recently was able to attend and present at the 12th International Erickson Congress in Phoenix, Arizona. My trip was very enjoyable and was a moving experience for me. Getting to see old and new friends was great as usual. I enjoyed connecting with people such as Bill O’Hanlon, Bob Bertolino, Michael Hoyt, Mike Munion, Suzanne Black, Rachel Hott, Bob and Sandie Wubbolding, Eric Greenleaf, Betty Alice Erickson, Richard and Susan Hill, Rob McNeilly, Gabrielle Peacock, and far too many other people to list. It was a lovely time to be around like minded practitioners whose high skill level was only matched by their deep desire to help others.
Bill O’Hanlon during the keynote address
The primary thing that I gained from the conference was a reinforcement of my belief in the importance of focusing on the potential each client brings to his or her therapy session. Every presenter I talked with shared my views that a constant focus on pathology rarely leads to change. Dr. Eric Greenleaf said it best in one of his sessions, “Psychotherapy seems to be the only profession in which constantly discussing the history of the problem is seen as somehow contributing to solving the problem. You don’t find this in any other profession. If a plumber has a problem, he or she just makes adjustments in how the plumbing operates. There isn’t all this long drawn out examination of the history of how the plumbing issue started”.
Dr. Eric Greenleaf
I have attended many conferences in the past but the Erickson Congress is my favorite as it feels so much like a family reunion. Even people I did not know at first quickly became friends. Having a common goal for utilizing client resources over emphasizing diagnostic dysfunction seems to draw us together in a way that I don’t find at many other psychotherapy related conferences. The staff did a great job at helping everyone connect and enjoy the event. Dr. Jeff Zeig, the head of the Erickson Foundation, and his team made a wonderful occasion even more wonderful by exhibiting much care and professionalism to ensure everyone had ample opportunities to learn and interact.
Dr. Jeff Zeig
On a personal note, I was honored to have been able to have a small, private tour of Dr. Milton Erickson’s home and office. His home has been turned into a private museum and kept how it would have looked if he were still living there. I was accompanied on the tour by some of my friends, including Dr. Suzanne Black and Dr. Rachel Hott. We all enjoyed seeing many of Dr. and Mrs. Erickson’s personal items and getting a sense of how humble Dr. Erickson really was. Just standing in his home I felt a sense of awe mixed with sadness. In some way I could sense the physical pain Dr. Erickson was constantly in toward the end of his life due to polio. At the same time I was overwhelmed by the feeling of how much he loved being alive and helping others. Just being in his office was inspiring for me and several of us were able to sit in his chair and soak up the ambiance of where he worked. Being in his home gave me a deeper sense of who Dr. Erickson was as a person. Even though I had written a book about his work, I didn’t have that personal sense of connection with him until after visiting his home.
Dr. Suzanne Black in Dr. Erickson’s office
There is a certain feeling of sadness I had as the conference came to a close. I know it will be another year or so before I get to see my therapy friends and mentors. Having had several days surrounded by people who share my passion gives me a renewed feeling of possibility for my profession. I encourage anyone who works in the mental health field to make sure you are able to have some time throughout your year to interact with like-minded souls as our profession can be a very lonely one. By interacting with our peers (friends) we can share new ideas which can help not only us but also our clients. I am grateful not just to be able to attend but also to be invited to present a short course. I am anxiously looking forward to the next one and I hope to see you there.