To be a successful therapist, you need to take this on board. There are four golden rules when it comes to dealing with clients and they’re easy enough to remember.
Rule 1. You must always care about your client. If you are into the therapy business solely for the money, it is likely you will fail. Of course, therapy is a business like any other – you are offering a service in return for reward, but that does not alter the fact that your client’s wellbeing is your primary concern. Believe me, a client can spot any disinterest or boredom on your part a mile off. The technical term for this is Cognitive Dissonance: the client can sense when you don’t care, in the same way you can sense when someone is flirting with you. You don’t need a degree in psychology to do this – it’s a natural ability that we all have. Clients are extremely adept at seeing through bull and also detecting the unmistakable aroma of cigarette smoke! I know I am preaching to the converted here, but you would be surprised… there are a few out there who spend most of the session thinking up ways to get the client back for another sixty quid’s worth! Lawyers are the only professionals legally allowed to do that.
Rule 2. Your client is not your friend! Your client is not someone you will be inviting round for dinner, or someone you will be asking out for a drink. Approximately two hypnotherapists a year end up having to defend themselves against allegations of some kind of impropriety or other. Every couple of years, at least one hypnotherapist is forced to deny or justify their actions in front of a jury.
Rule 3. All the client really wants is to feel better. For me, this is the most important rule. Whatever it is that has brought them to your door, all they really want is to feel better about it. We are therapists, not miracle workers, so we might not be able to solve all of the problems all of the time, but the bottom line is they should feel they have made unmistakable and distinct and progress.
Rule 4. Big words don’t help the client. I always avoid using long words and overblown phrases. People appreciate straight talk and plain language is taken as a sign of honesty. If you sound too clever, it can backfire by unnecessarily worrying the client. This is one of the great failings of Neuro-Linguistic Poppycock – too much pretentious, pseudo-psycho-babble.
So, now we’ve got the rules sorted, what next?
My first words to a client when they walk through the door are always “how can I help you today?” And then I shut up. Their answer to that question will be the most important and revealing part of the session. It gives them the opportunity to tell you what they expect from the session. The more they talk, the more information you have to work with.
The master interviewer of all time was English chat show host Michael Parkinson. Even when I was a teenager, I loved watching his show. I realised that he realised that the host was not the star of the show, but the medium by which one celebrity after another would be given the opportunity to engage (talk their shit) with the viewing audience. The thing that really sticks out in my mind was that when the ‘celeb’ had finished answering a question, Parky would just sit back and wait for his guest to continue. Nature abhors a vacuum, and the same is true of the celebrity interview – a silence needs to be filled. So Parky would sit back and almost imperceptibly nod his head, whilst maintaining his steely eye contact with his victim (sorry… guest.)
A silence that lasts even for a micro second is embarrassing for the interviewee – and there is suddenly a great desire to fill that silence with talk. Anything – talk about anything at all to fill the gap – the weather in Moscow – anything! And so a succession of celebrities spilled the beans to Parky, and to 12 million BBC viewers week after week during the 1970’s and 80’s.
I do this all the time.
Carl Rogers said that the patient dictates the direction and pace of the session, and I would imagine that this great man, a true giant among psychologists, came to this conclusion after long experience.
Letting the patient take charge of his or her own sessions is empowering in itself, and it saves the therapist having to think too much about what is to be done. People love talking about themselves; the therapeutic situation, the cosy environment of a therapy session, gives them the perfect opportunity. A few polite nods and the occasional “I see” or “yes, I understand” will usually be enough to keep the session rolling on towards its inevitable conclusion – a booking for the same time next week.
Carl Rogers is the man who simplified ‘talking therapy’ it and made it work so well. The concept is so simple, it’s brilliant, and Rogers far outstrips Freud in the genius stakes. Carl Rogers was the inventor and instigator of the best, most incisive, most effective type of common-sense client-centred therapy, without the baggage of Freud’s sexual repression and repressed memory bollocks. Rogers realized that people understand themselves best when they view matters from the vantage point of their own unique experience, perceptions and feelings. Each person’s unique outlook is the major determinant affecting behaviour.
Rogers understood that healthy people are aware, or can easily become aware, of the reasons for their behaviour. Healthy people are innately good and effective and therefore able to achieve their goals. The only thing stopping them is faulty learning.
Nor are healthy people merely passive respondents to their environment, rather, they are self-directed. Therapists can and should create conditions that will facilitate independent decision-making. The ability to make one’s own decisions are also part of the survival strategy. People who are able to make their own decisions are invariably healthier and on the whole, more civilized, especially when they are not concerned with the demands, evaluations and preferences of others. Once a person reaches a state of ‘self-actualization’ they are well on their way to fulfilling their potential as human beings.
Rogers always avoided the imposition of goals; he always allowed clients to take the lead and direct the course of the conversation and this is something that I have always found works best. Their own intrinsic qualities of self-determination always surface in the end. Allowing the client to grow in this way is what Rogers referred to as ‘Unconditional Positive Regard.’
Such is my regard for Carl Rogers that I have included a picture of him… with my thanks for his no-nonsense genius.
There are various ways of finding out about people and what makes an individual tick. The more rigid and academic ones are listed here for your delectation and delight…
The advantage of the questionnaire is that data can be collected quickly, but the disadvantages are numerous. People taking part are, even at an unconscious level, often tempted to give answers that make them appear more socially acceptable than perhaps they really are. There can also be an unfortunate tendency for people to just agree for the sake of it or because they can’t be bothered to think hard enough about the questions or the answers. Or maybe it’s because they are actually on their way to Tesco and want to get away from the questioner as quickly as possible. Some people may even give answers that are purposely designed to shock. I know I do.
The results of interviews can sometimes be affected by the interviewer’s style or even perhaps unconscious prejudices. Unstructured interviews can easily stray from the point if you’re not careful, and interviewees can unintentionally be swayed by the [perceived] prestige of the interviewer.
Correlating results from any of the methods used in surveys will begin to show patterns. However, correlations are no indicators of cause and effect, they are just useful for predicting behaviour. The same is true when it comes to the simple observation of behaviour. The danger is that people are more likely to behave differently if they know they are being watched. The obvious solution to this dilemma is to employ covert observation. However, covert observation runs the risk of being confused with stalking and might be difficult to explain when the police arrive. “Binoculars… video camera…?” Best get permission first!
Studying an individual using any one, or a combination of some of the methods described above is something that therapists do all the time. Good therapists often see patterns emerging from client to client and this is one way they build up their expertise and experience. Getting to know individuals this way is extraordinarily time consuming, but in the long run it is easier to form a detailed view of a client. Occasionally, a single case can contradict a whole theory – and then you really are on your own and thinking on your feet!
I love these cases.
For more information and detail about Hypnotherapy, read the book All in the Mind – Hypnosis, Suggestion and the New Mesmerists. Available from this website.
Copyright Andrew Newton 2009. All rights reserved.