Therapy Soothes and Challenges

I love my work, and I know this work delves deep into who I am. When I first start­ed to do coun­sel­ing with cou­ples, I stud­ied com­pli­cat­ed tech­niques like Mil­ton Ericson’s hyp­no­sis, and Vir­ginia Satir’s work on anx­i­ety that bur­rows inside your body. I watched in amaze­ment 15 years ago as trau­ma was elim­i­nat­ed with EMDR (Eye Move­ment Repro­cess­ing by Shapiro). I then stud­ied with Judith Her­man who wrote “the Book” onSueSerena heal­ing after acute trau­ma. One nev­er gets bored with the study of fam­i­ly ther­a­py. Con­sid­er these requests by parents:
  • Can you cure chil­dren suf­fer­ing from enuresis?”
  • What hap­pens when my part­ner uses spy­ware on my computer?”
  • When I sus­pect Janelle’s using drugs and she denies it, should I surep­tious­ly read her journal?”

It is my plea­sure to help fam­i­lies, but I don’t take cred­it for cur­ing the prob­lem. Ther­a­py can help make crush­ing sched­ules more bear­able; realign the merid­i­ans of pow­er among par­ents and chil­dren; get par­ents pad­dling in synch instead of row­ing against each oth­er. The stress lev­el and com­pli­cat­ed after school activ­i­ties packs in too many expec­ta­tions. Headaches and stom­achaches can give cues as to whether stress is high. In ther­a­py I deal with the irri­tat­ing peb­ble in the shoe, and the chaos of flash­backs. Plus I now know how much the work is help­ing myself. The old adage says, “You teach the sub­ject that you most need to learn.”

In fam­i­ly ther­a­py, clients often con­fuse us with social work­ers or psy­chol­o­gists. We do not pathol­o­gize clients nor diag­nose learn­ing dis­or­ders. These ques­tions by Jay Haley (the savvy guru of brief inter­ven­tions) give us pause to con­sid­er our stature as fam­i­ly therapists.

  1. Is the ther­a­py goal to change peo­ple to become mem­bers of spe­cial elites or to change them to be nor­mal? In oth­er words, Does ther­a­py adjust us to a mal­ad­just­ed world?
  2. Should the ther­a­pist join in the mad­ness of oth­ers or remain out­side their universe?
  3. Should the ther­a­pist work swift­ly or leisurely?
  4. When one thinks of ther­a­py as poet­ry, does a skill­ful ther­a­pist write son­nets or free verse?
  5. Should a ther­a­pist insist upon change?

I’m igno­rant of how peo­ple change. And bliss­ful about my unknow­ing. I know intu­itive­ly that the rela­tion­ship helps the change as much as the inter­ven­tion. I could not answer these ques­tions with­out ask­ing my clients, “What do you think? What are you will­ing to work for?”


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