Seven ways to sharpen your therapy toolkit
Having all the right tools in your therapy toolkit really can make the difference between a good therapist and a great therapist.
Over the last 12 years, I have trained in a number of various therapies and techniques to heal the mind, body and spirit. With each one I started, I hoped that ‘this is going to be the one!’, only to discover that, no, it is simply the tool that will lead on to the next tool.
In my quest to discover all there is to know about the body-brain connection, I can honestly say I know an awful lot – but I certainly don’t know everything! And I see that as a good thing; science is only just catching up with spirituality, and biology is only just catching up with epigenetics.
If the great masters of science, physics and biology are still learning, then why shouldn’t we? Why is it we tend to give ourselves a hard time if we don’t have all the answers for our clients? If we don’t have enough tools in our toolkit – then what should we do?
I know from experience that, quite often, the therapy you have just invested in financially, you also invest in mentally and energetically. You eat, sleep and do whatever else the theory behind the science proposes. You get struck with brain-freeze during the practical assessments and all the theory that seemed to work in the training room, isn’t so usable in the real world.
Having trained in many different areas (acupuncture being one), once you leave that training environment and you are out on your own, the whole experience changes. Clients come in all different shapes and sizes, with issues and alignments that were not discussed in class. Your client falls asleep or doesn’t follow your instructions properly. Clients report no improvement, or their symptoms worsen, and you feel totally unprepared for the real world, real people and all the challenges that brings with it.
Here is my advice on how to sharpen your tookit:
Practise non-judgement: Clients want unconditional positive regard, which means that you need to see the world from their point of view, be it religious beliefs, political views, sexual preferences etc. Never under any circumstances, judge or criticise your clients. It is your job to hold a safe space for them where they won’t be frowned upon – it may be the only time they truly get to be themselves, and for this it makes your job rather special.
Don’t pretend to know it all: I know when you first start you want to have all the answers, but this is unrealistic and puts a lot of pressure on you. There is no shame in saying "I don’t know, I will need to look that up for you". And if you do say that, then follow it up with an answer, either by email, or by making a note so you can use this as a discussion for their next visit. Your clients will come to trust you more, and will see you as trustworthy and dependable.
Help clients understand themselves better: Help your client discover what is right with them, rather than always focusing on what is wrong with them. This is the basis of positive psychology, and it is empowering for a client to discover their strengths and look at ways in which to integrate them into their daily life. Use a self-assessment test which determines a client’s characters strengths and virtues. Then ask the client to tell you a time when they last used this strength and where they feel they can use it more often to promote and support their well-being.
Don’t argue with your clients: This sounds self-explanatory but you may get a client who goes against all the good work you are doing with them and sabotage their progress e.g a weight-loss client sees a nutritionist, agrees to follow a healthy eating plan, but on the next session, admits to having a take-out meal three times that week! It may be tiresome for you as a therapist and you will be frustrated, but remember, you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. If the client continues to disregard all your good advice, or never sticks to a goal and does the opposite, then you are within your rights to politely explain to the client that maybe they would benefit from re-evaluating their goals and their reasons for wanting to achieve them. Usually, if a client isn’t compliant, there is an underlying reason for this. Discuss it professionally and politely.
Beware of clients who want to be fixed: Remember, no one is broken and no one is fixable by anyone other than themselves. Clients generally don’t want to be told what to do, and if they do, then (depending on your role), think carefully about working with them with them in that mindset. You are there to facilitate a client’s change, but you are never responsible for it. With all the best will in the world, a person will only change when they are ready. Instead, help your client take responsibility by suggesting they set small achievable goals for themselves. It is important that they have a way to celebrate achieving the small goals, so that the client becomes used to feeling accountable and accomplished in doing things for themselves.
Form healthy boundaries: This is difficult – even for me! I am a friendly, compassionate person, and that shows in my therapy sessions. I am a hugger! But it is not always appropriate, so it is usually best avoided. I must admit, I do sometimes find this difficult, especially if my client has shared a part of her that was vulnerable or emotional. I know when I am coaching and healing, the energy that exchanges is undeniably moving, and who wouldn’t want to reach out and share a gesture of a heartfelt hug with their client. You may feel that way, and if your client does, then that is fine – the ‘hug police’ are not going to arrest you. But if your client feels uncomfortable, then you really are crossing boundaries and that is not an acceptable position to put your client in.
Know when to refer: From time to time, some clients will benefit from being referred to a specialist in a certain area, e.g. bereavement, counselling, nutrition etc. It makes good practise to have a qualified network you are able to refer a client to. You are not passing them on, you are simply looking after the well-being of the client, in the hope that they get the best possible outcome for their issue.
So that’s how to successfully sharpen your toolkit. If you are passionate about your job then you will want to maintain a long, fruitful and healthy career. You’ll improve your chances by networking with other highly qualified professionals, maintain healthy boundaries and gain confidence to voice a concern. Commit to lifelong learning, respect your client’s map of the world, and offer a safe, supporting space with your clients. This doesn’t guarantee success, but it will give some protection against burnout and best practice issues.
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About Anne-Marie Mayers
Hypnotherapist, NLP life-coaching with an interest in 'transformational change therapy'. Discover your top character strengths and vrtues by taking the FREE assessment here: http://annemarie.pro.viasurvey.org/
For further information on improving your life as a therapist, healer or coach then why not talk to me today. I’d love to hear from you.