The Truth of the Matter: What is Your Deepest Goal as a Therapist?
I help a lot of people work through a lot of different life issues when they come to my office: People come for solace when they’ve lost a loved one. They look to me for light in the darkness when they’re depressed. They seek guidance when they’re going through a big life transition—good or bad. They hope for support when they feel isolated. They want help to deal with trauma.
I help them make their way through all these varied situations, yet there’s something underlying each circumstance that resonates with the universal.
What is it, exactly, during each and every session, that I’m helping them with?
What is it that I think I’m actually doing when I sit with them as they go through anything, really?
In the last post I asked you to think about your fundamental assumptions about what motivates people to seek help. Now I’m asking you what you believe your fundamental job is as a therapist. This question is an important one for all therapists to explore. The answer to this question underlies your every move as a therapist.
The first time I sought therapy when I was a young adult was because I hated my career. I hated my work, yet I had I had no idea who I really was or what I really wanted to do instead.
The next time I turned to therapy (with the same person) was because my husband died suddenly. That time, I fell into my therapist’s lap with sorrow and confusion and overwhelm.
I remained in exploration with that therapist for a long time because grief transitioned into questions about single parenting, complications about dealing with loneliness and dating as a widow, and a fundamental existential exploration of what in the hell I was on this planet for anyway.
And guess what…
Therapy for career transition? Helped me quit my awful job and begin a path toward what was ultimately my calling.
Therapy for grief? Helped me to grieve and feel not crazy.
Therapy for parenting, loneliness, and rebuilding an existential world? Helped me be a good parent who coped with loneliness and dating even while dealing with the intense emotions embroiled in building a new inner world from the ground up.
But get this: The most important thing I gained from all that therapy? The thing that emerged from all the work, no matter the issue? The thing that made me want to be a therapist myself? Was not career help. Or parenting guidance. Or the realization that the intensity of my grief wasn’t crazy.
All of these things were crucial, of course. I wouldn’t trade anything for the help and accompaniment my therapist gave me in any one of those areas.
Yet the most important thing I gained—bit by bit as I slogged through many, many painful days—was access to my deepest, truest, unique, and individual self.
I learned to trust my intuition.
I gained confidence in being real.
I began to know that I had something unique to offer to the world.
I learned to be centered, whether I was suffering or full of joy.
No matter what the content was that I explored with my therapist, the work I did with her ultimately brought me in touch with the fundamental ground of my being so that no matter what future events present me with, I have access to my true self to help me figure out how to hold onto my center and move authentically through any situation.
And that is what I help people to discover: My ultimate goal as a therapist is to help my clients realize that they have their own inner guidance to turn to as I teach them to listen.
Whether people are in my office to get help with grief, transition, trauma, or anything else, beneath all of the content, the guiding force behind my job is to help them discover and get to know and trust their true, intuitive selves.
With that unique inner relationship restored, reflected, and strengthened, I can help them to deal with anything.
Donald Winnicott defines the true self as “a sense of being alive and real in one’s body, having feelings that are spontaneous and unforced. This experience of aliveness is what allows people to be genuinely close to others, and to be creative.”
Carl Jung defines this true self discovery process as individuation, a process by which we bring our unconscious potential into living reality, discovering a more potent sense of meaning and purpose in life, thus becoming more harmonious, mature, and responsible, and having a good understanding about the workings of human nature and the universe.
Daniel Siegel talks about this true self concept in terms of brain integration. Brain integration leads to insight, empathy, intuition, and morality. A result of integration in an individual is kindness, resilience, and health. In relationship, integration entails each person’s being respected for his or her autonomy and differentiated self while at the same time being connected to others in empathic communication.
However the experts frame it, remembering that my overarching (and underlying) goal is to help people to discover their intuitive, true selves helps me to relax into trusting the process of being with my clients. Helps me to have a surety about what direction I need to move (i.e. toward clients’ true selves), no matter what content my clients are dealing with. Helps me to not have to have all the answers. Because my clients and I are sharing in a journey of discerning and listening to the answers that emerge from their individual intuitive selves.