I had the pleasure of presenting to a class of the UW Whitewater Counseling Masters program last week. One of the questions that was asked of me was about what important things weren’t taught in my Masters program. I easily listed off some subject material that I thought wasn’t covered nearly enough. Those were the easy things.
I also said that there were 2 other things that I wasn’t taught. Things that I thought were incredibly important. As I shared them it struck me that they are messages worth sharing because while they apply to me as a therapist, they also apply more generally to life.
Be fearless – trust your instinct. I’ll admit some of this may have come more naturally to me than others. I came to this at an older age than many others. I also have a pretty high level of confidence. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have to learn to trust that. To believe it is oky to try things and say things that just feel right in the moment. I have learned that and believe I’m a better therapist because of it.
Does that mean I never get it wrong? Absolutely not. Things I try or say don’t always work or resonate with my clients. What I’ve learned is that when I have positive intentions the risk of causing harm is very minimal. And, when I trust my instinct, the chance of something really good happening is much higher.
Clients recognize and value authenticity. I believe most people do. That’s why I believe we should all be fearless…fearless about being ourselves.
Sometimes I do my best when I’m not even trying. I believe this has to do with trusting instinct. Maybe I shouldn’t admit this but it has happened so many times I can’t deny it. There are times in session when I’m talking while my mind is trying to figure out where to go next. I think I’m simply buying some time to think before beginning the real work. Then the next week the client will come in and tell me that whatever I said really resonated with them. They thought about it all week and it gave them a new perspective on the situation.
It happens in other ways as well. I use a lot of stories and metaphors during session. Frequently one of two things will happen. One is that I’ll keep thinking about a story but have no idea how it applies. I’ve learned to trust that feeling and tell the story. Often clients will immediately have some insight or understanding even though I didn’t see the connection.
The other is that I’ll tell the story for a specific reason. The client will make an entirely different connection with the story. It will be important and useful for them, but not in the way I intended.
What does all of this really show? That people do their own work. They are the ones that decide to change. As a therapist I can have an impact but I can’t force someone to have insight or to make changes. They do that themselves.
These are useful things to remember as you navigate life. Be fearless and trust your instincts. Be authentic – know your emotions, your desires and let them shape your life. As you do that, remember that your ability to change others is limited. You can help them, encourage them, even inspire them. You never know what it is that you may do or say that will give them the space to become who they want to become.