When Everything is Failing

Last week was one of those weeks where I felt like the crappiest therapist. I had some sessions where I felt like nothing I could do was making anything better, and in fact might be making things worse. Wonderfully, there has been a lot of interesting stuff in the EFT community in the last couple weeks about working with tough clients, mainly clients who struggle with self-awareness. Thank you, EFT Universe!

A clinician posted a question to the listserve about how others work with clients who struggle with self-awareness, and there were some great responses. Patti Swope’s response helped me the most. She shared she can also “get caught in ‘trying to help them see’ big time, and it’s what I do when I’m frustrated.”

Those words felt like a huge rush of relief and understanding for me. I realized that’s exactly where I’ve been caught, trying to make my tough clients see what they’re doing and what gets in the way of what they want. I get frustrated with them, and then my work gets crappy. These moments are where I find myself saying the most ridiculous things, and realize I’m in a cognitive battle/cycle with the client. I’m not even going to tell you some of the things I said in session last week, they are so embarrassing.

I also scheduled numerous supervision sessions, since I was freaking out about how badly everything seemed to be going. I saw my former individual supervisor, who I just love. She doesn’t do couples work, however she’s a genius at conceptualizing and also holding the mirror up to me. She reflected to me that I’m approaching some of these clients with an urgency that I need them to be different, so that they can stay in this relationship. She pointed out with my cognitive clients I seem to be chasing them around the room, trying to wrap my logic around their cognitive illogic.

I also watched Annabelle Bugatti’s interview with George Faller and it was so helpful. I’m so grateful to Annabelle for her work in bringing us her wisdom and the wisdom of others. George talked about anger in a way that really helped me see how much I’ve been trying to avoid or damp down my client’s anger, instead of truly validating it.  You should absolutely watch this interview here.

DIAGNOSIS:

So, all of this information and feedback helped me diagnose my problem:

I have been on a little rampage, trying to get my clients to see themselves and be different, in part because they (sometimes both clients) are so angry and escalated. And that has been increasing my anxiety and frustration, and feeling of helplessness.

SOLUTION:

The clinician who originally posted the question followed-up later and summarized the solutions she had heard. She wrote therapists seemed to be following two different camps:

1)   The gentle confrontation – gently asking a client if we can give them some feedback, expressing concern this may injure our relationship, helping hold up a mirror to where we see them not being able to see themselves.

2)   The relentless validation, really trying to understand where they are coming from, and validating their secondary emotions in a way that fits for them (matching affect, really getting into their anger versus trying to get under it). This is also the method George talked about. And most importantly, letting go of the outcome.

 

I think it’s a difficult balance, as therapists, of what we do with the idea of the outcome. On one hand, it helps us hold hope, dig in deep, work very hard, and have stamina to be working towards an outcome of togetherness. On the other hand, it can really drive my pursuer, and I start to pursue my clients and need them to be different right now, for fear they will lose their relationship.

So today I’m trying to sit with not desperately trying to get clients to see themselves, but staying more in my curiosity to understand their experience. I’ve also had to really ramp up the interrupting and deliberate ignoring of cognitive exits, which isn’t my favorite way to practice but has been necessary to stay on target. Whew – what a week! How do you come back to yourself when you’re starting to feel run ragged by intense sessions?