Home > Uncategorized > The Helper and the Help-ee?

The Helper and the Help-ee?

One of the biggest issues people have with psychotherapy is that it’s an inexact science. A lot of people question the motives, expertise and compassion of therapists due to the media portraying them as being insensitive and distracted. An even bigger aspect is the amount of work clients have to do for therapy to be effective. Although therapists can be very helpful, their role is contingent upon the clients they see. If a client is open with the therapist, and is able to look at themselves with a critical eye, therapy can be very effective. If a client holds back from the therapist, or even sabotages their sessions, then a therapist is essentially useless. A therapist is a vehicle for the client to use, and its success is dependent on the honesty and openness of the client. For example, you don’t go to a mechanic and complain about the odd noise you have been hearing without mentioning your wrong turn into that swamp last week; that doesn’t give the mechanic the tools they need to fix your car. Similarly, if you go and see a therapist and neglect to bring up a traumatic event in the past, or a current stressor, then you are not allowing them the tools they need to be effective. Now I don’t want to give off the impression that nobody out there tells their therapist crucial information simply because a lack of trust, there are other factors which lead to the breakdown. Some people struggle with the intimacy of therapy. It can be very hard to walk in and talk to a complete stranger about the biggest issues in your life without knowing anything about them. Most therapists prefer relative anonymity in the therapeutic relationship as it keeps things professional and preserves the helper – helpee relationship. For example, it would be incredibly hard, if not completely impossible, to talk about your own problems when you know your therapist is going through a divorce, a death in the family, or another crisis in their life. It is hard to see a person in need in their own life as an effective helper in yours.

So there is a definite need to have a break between therapist and friend, but what happens when that break creates a seemingly unbridgeable gap between therapist and client? How can you connect with your therapist without violating the therapist’s privacy and preserving the professional relationship? I have often had this conversation with teenage clients who struggle to make connections with their individual therapists. The best way to combat this is to take control of the situation and ask your own questions. Ask questions that will let you know more about the therapist without compromising the professional relationship. Below is a list of questions former clients have used on me and other therapists, to build rapport:
1) What type of music do you listen to?
2) Favorite sport?
3) Favorite book?
4) Favorite Movie(s)?
5) Who would you pick to save the world, Batman, Harry Potter or Jack Bauer?
6) What would be your weapon of choice for the zombie apocalypse?
As you can see, I mostly work with kids and teens, but it doesn’t mean the questions are invalid for adults. Simple alterations can make these questions viable for adults, it just takes creativity. It is important to remember that personal, identifying questions will compromise the professional relationship, so be aware of boundaries. At the end of the day these questions can be more useful than a biopsychosocial assessment, because who wouldn’t want to talk about the effectiveness of Harry Potter’s wand in a Zombie apocalypse?

Christopher Curran MA

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Categories: Uncategorized
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