I know it’s not Friday but… I couldn’t let July end without one last flashback for summer!

Below is one of my favorite posts of all time.  Not because it’s my best writing or that the message is so complex or profound but because it answers one of the questions I get asked often… how do you do what you do?

Yes at times this work is exhausting and difficult.  And yes, there are times when I am nearly overwhelmed with the pain that people carry.  But every day, even on the tough days, I am honored to be able to sit with people and know that my presence and ability to listen without judgement and still hold out hope, is life changing.  Every week clients give me the privilege to use my existence for a greater good and that is amazing.

So if you ever wondered what it’s like to be a therapist and what we do with those “tough” issues and clients… I believe that the most important thing we all do is meet you exactly where you are and offer compassion and hope.


Meeting you where you are

What makes a good therapist? Is it education, training, compassion, techniques? The truth is that it is all of those things and more. Each therapist, and each client, has their own personal definition of what a “good therapist” really is. As professionals, I find that the definition of what makes a good therapist is often shaped by our belief about what therapy should be. For me a big part of doing a good job in therapy is meeting my clients where they are emotionally.

I had a great conversation with another therapist about the pros and cons of solution-focused therapy last week. In part we both agreed that there are times that focusing on solutions and the future is not what clients are looking for. This is not to knock the value of this therapeutic approach, I use many of the techniques in my work and have great respect for many of the therapists who have developed and researched this model.

But it got me thinking about the idea of understanding where a client is and simply being with them in that emotional space.

When I was in graduate school, my husband asked me about my work as an intern and what I did in session. At that time I was working with a few clients who were trauma survivors. I tried to explain about the coping skills and other tangible techniques but something was missing. There is an intangible quality to the therapeutic process, especially when trauma is involved, that I just couldn’t capture in words. Late one evening a few weeks later, I found myself watching What Dreams May Come, a film from the late 90’s with Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra. I had already fallen in love with the movie the first time I saw it years before but the story took on another level for me that night.

Williams and Sciorra portray a couple who face enormous loss in the movie. The grief is overwhelming, particularly for the wife and her husband is left trying to figure out how to help her. What struck me the second time I watched the film was that twice Robin Williams “saves” his wife by simply being with her in her pain.

In spite of all of his efforts to support and understand and cajole her out of her depression he couldn’t “fix her”. He couldn’t wave a magic wand or do some special trick to make her better so instead he learned how to accept her pain as part of her reality. He learned to sit and be still and hold on to the hope for her without asking her to do anything beyond surviving her pain that day.

I often find in therapy that is my job. Sometimes a couple is too angry and too betrayed to talk with me about hope or work on communication exercises. Sometimes I work with teenagers who are so fragile or depressed that they can not do anything. At these times it is my job to simply join them where they are at that moment and hold out hope that things will get better. Therapy is a journey and often times your therapist is a guide, someone to hold your hand and stay with you even at the times when you stop and aren’t sure you can go forward.

There are numerous theoretical perspectives and research to support techniques and help us understand the psyche. These are important tools for any good therapist to have. They offer us a method to what is sometimes maddening work. But for me the first step in helping any client I see is understanding who they are and where they are… and then learning how to simply be with them there.


Vote GTA as Best of Suburbia 2014What do you think… how important is it for a therapist or counselor to “meet you where you are”?

Have you experienced this kind of acceptance in other areas of your life?

Tell us what you think in the comments below.

And if you believe in our philosophy about good mental health care, consider voting for us in Posh Seven magazine’s 2014 Best of Suburbia survey {mental health is #50 on page 4!}