I find myself wanting things that are predictable. Earl Grey tea is something I can count on. It tastes the same every time. It’s easily recognizable. I don’t have to guess as to what flavor the tea is. As a new psychotherapist I found it very hard sometimes to figure out what my patients were trying to tell me. Sometimes I felt completely lost. However, after I graduated from my Psychiatry residency over 22 years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet a Jungian psychoanalyst along they way. I began my work with him individually about ten years ago and still work with him today. He taught me there was a way to recognize things. To listen more deeply. He gave me a knowledge that nobody else had offered me in the past. I drank it down like a good cup of tea. Once I realized what I hadn’t been doing, it made my work so much easier. I began to listen for things I have never listened for before. I guess it’s similar to also recognizing a flavor of tea.
Relying on science isn’t useful in psychotherapy
Psychotherapy is not like working in a hard science. It’s about emotions, feelings and experiences. Sometimes we feel the emotions in our bodies. Psychotherapy can be very painful. It is not my job to cheerlead my patients. I can’t come up with solutions to make them want to feel better. That would be me being uncomfortable with watching their pain. It is my job to listen and try to understand how they feel. I don’t have fancy scans or blood tests to figure out what’s going on. Instead, I have my listening skills. I rely on past feelings. If my patient tells me he feels like a failure again, I pay attention to when we have talked about this before and ask him what it feels like to feel like a failure. We learn from his feelings. We learn from his experiences.
Psychotherapy is not like a friendship
I don’t pretend to be an expert in psychotherapy, but have enhanced my skillset over the years. Sometimes people believe psychotherapy is like talking to “a friend.” Unfortunately, that is a way to devalue the experience of psychotherapy. Hopefully, by the end of therapy, we have learned what we need to learn. We might learn that we really don’t want to change. Or we might come to know that “we are the enemy.” Whatever it is, my job is to walk alongside my patients and to accept whatever it is they feel they want and need.