Psychotherapy Perspectives

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Being Open in Psychotherapy

by Garth Mintun, LCSW, CSW-G

Being open to others and accepting is very important in psychotherapy. Often we (as psychotherapists) talk the talk, but may not “walk the walk”. To walk the walk takes considerable awareness of self and often we have to put aside the conventional knowledge aside to be open and accepting of/toward others.

For example, when you think of a diagnosis do you think the person "holds" the problem inside of them? When I hear a diagnosis I need to “set it aside” to see the person in front of me! It is too bad that medical theory concentrates on the “pathology” and not the wellness of the person. What if we were to diagnosis people on wellness? What if we called people with the terms like “warmly resonating”, “friendly and articulate”, intensely honest, emotionally beautiful, and open to new ideas and holistically abundant? What if people came to therapy for helping a family member, “fit into the family more completely”? Instead of a child having school problems, what if the school came to the psychotherapist and asked how to help change the institution so the child could learn more of what he/she or the parents wanted. What if there was no normal and everybody was special in their own way? What if instead of an “addiction problem”, the issue was that the person “learned compulsivity very quickly” and the help were to assist this “gifted “person attends to other ways of learning compulsivity in ways they want to be.”

In narrative therapy (Michael White, David Epston, http://www.dulwichcentre.com.au/) the use of externalization is used to address “problems” as something outside the person. Narrative therapy uses the persons own words to describe the external “problem” rather than the so called diagnosis in the therapy process. The alternative stories rather then the problem stories are favored in therapy and the client is considered the “expert” while the therapist helps collaborate with the person against the external problem. The problem is addressed and externalized with the therapist and person collaborating with each other against the problem. If a client brings up a traditional diagnosis and names it such, we try to assist the client in externalizing it and finding ways of “keeping the problem at bay”.

In summary, we psychotherapists need to be open to our clients and the expertness they bring to the process. If we were more open to learning from our clients and question our professional assumptions more, perhaps we could be more open to others and ourselves.

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