One of the biggest wastes of time in my office is working with a client who wants me to validate his or her irrational emotions. When I refuse to do that, they of course accuse me of ‘not caring about how they feel.’ But, as an objective third-party with no agenda other than trying to help, I am, in a way, paid NOT to care. That might sound harsh, but if ‘caring’ means placating you by agreeing with and validating all your feelings as a spouse, family member or friend might do, then that’s not what I do. If everyone’s feelings were valid, constructive, logical and helpful, there would be no need for my profession.
A therapist willing to be objective and honest does in fact care, in the truest sense of the word. If I tell you what you want to hear so that you’ll like me, keep coming to me and paying me money, then that’s not very caring, is it? If I tell you the truth, backed up with ‘uncaring’ logic and facts, risking your wrath and your termination of me as a therapist, I’d say that is pretty caring. A good therapist puts his/her professional opinion of your needs above his or her immediate gratification.
As an undergraduate in psychology, I remember being shown a movie about a real-life woman under the pseudonym of Gloria. Gloria was counseled by three famous therapists of the era. I remember that one of them was Fritz Perls (the type who confronted); another was Carl Rogers (the type who was ‘nice’ and held back the truth); and the third was, I believe, Albert Ellis, a respected pioneer in cognitive-behavioral therapy. I haven’t watched the film in years, but as best as I can remember, it went like this:
Gloria was quite assertive and confrontational herself, with a lot of inner turmoil. She volunteered to have her sessions recorded and seemed to appreciate it. With Ellis and Rogers, the sessions seemed to go reasonably well. When she got to Fritz Perls, however, that’s when the fireworks began. After the sessions, Gloria was interviewed by the person who conducted the study. Based on how they went, you’d expect her to say she liked the unconditionally positive Rogers the most, and confrontational Perls the least. But when asked point-blank who helped her the most, she replied ‘ Fritz Perls! She said that she needed to be confronted about some unpleasant truths, and even though she didn’t like it, she knew she needed it.
When a person reaches out to a therapist for guidance rather than from a friend or family member, they are asking for the truth; no matter how much they act like they don’t want it. In reaching out, they are admitting that they want and need it. Of course, not everyone is like Gloria. Some just want to complain and have me reply, ‘Ain’t it awful.’ But this isn’t help. Just because the person doesn’t want logic and truth doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get it.
From a cognitive point-of-view, the purpose of a therapist is to help you identify and change your invalid thinking, i.e., unsupported by facts. That can be easier said than done, but it’s the only solution possible. If your emotions are troubling you, then changing the thoughts and ideas that give rise to them is the only way to go. The psychotherapy client must let go of the idea that the treatment will somehow passively ‘do’ something to them, like getting a shot or an antibiotic. Therapy is guiding a person to play the game right, not playing the game for the person.
Most psychological and emotional conflicts are not due to lack of knowledge or intelligence. They arise primarily from contradictions and errors in thinking, along with the mental maneuvers required to ignore the problem. Getting into the habit of not thinking is what gets people into trouble. In fact, higher intelligence makes you more prone to emotional conflict because bright people are better at believing their own nonsense. It takes a strong, emotionally mature therapist to go up against that sort of resolve. So, if your therapist makes you mad, he or she is most likely the one whose input and advice will stay with you and help you the most.
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