One of my mentors, Jim Bugental, used to tell a story about the famous tightrope walkers, The Flying Wallendas. One of the Wallendas was starting to walk across a rope strung between 2 skyscrapers, a daring feat with no safety net. Jim would illustrate his talk with some old grainy newspaper images, we would see the tightrope walker take his first tentative steps onto the rope, clutching the balance beam over his shoulders. In the next image, a gust of wind had apparently blown, knocking him off balance; we see him using the beam to try to compensate. In the next two horrifying photos, we see him falling, falling, past the rope, still clutching on to the balance beam.
The balance beam had been his good friend and had saved his life on numerous occasions. But in this instance, he needed to let it go, and try to make a grab for the rope. Instead he held on to what he knew, and fell to his death. In therapy, we look for the balance beams clients are holding onto--behaviors, attitudes, patterns that have protected them in the past, but no longer serve a useful function.
I try to observe closely, and freely share what I notice--sometimes tentatively, other times forcefully--so you may consider whether my experience of you rings true, and provides you with some greater understanding of what is blocking you to life a richer, more satisfying life. I like to think of myself as an active and engaged therapist; if I sit there and nod and just ask you how you feel about something, please throw a box of kleenex at me. Perhaps I'm having an off day.
As most people are looking to make changes in their relationship with others, the relationship the develops between myself and my clients can be a fertile microcosm to explore. Of course therapy is in some sense an artificial relationship, but in many ways what goes on between the two of us can yield deep insights about the nature of the client's interpersonal world. So I encourage the two of us to mine that rich datafield as much as possible.
Although people often enter therapy in some sort of crisis, it is usually longer-term, underlying issues that concern them. My goal is to work as quickly as possible, trying to make the most of each session. My clients don't expect miracles, but they usually are in significant distress when we first meet, and want relief. As the therapy progresses, the goals may enlarge, so we are not just working to get rid of the pain, but to create more positive things--richer, deeper relationships, more satisfying and creative work, more peace with themselves, and more engagement in life. Helping others to achieve these goals is a big part of what makes my life meaningful.