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  • Reverend James Squire

What Therapists Know

Most people don’t realize that they want you to feel a certain way during an exchange. It is often not in their awareness. If you told them how they are making you feel, they would probably deny it. But how another makes you feel is a valuable resource in helping another person.

If you are feeling helpless in a relationship, honor that feeling, and know that the other person has an investment in you feeling that way. Why? Because it has worked for them in the past and gotten them what they wanted.

I have recently been with people who want something very badly from a person whose acclaim or attention they desire, and the other individual in the relationship just won’t give them what they want in the relationship. This is a great way to control another person. Size up what is important to someone and make it unimportant to you is a very powerful position to be in. It also has a huge downside for that person who is one up on you is living in a world of loneliness.

So how do professional therapists deal with that? A therapist realizes that they can’t control how the other person is making them feel. They have no control over that person, but they do have great control over how one responds to that person. it is the response that changes the behavior in the other person.

In its most simple terms, it is referred to as transference. The client will begin to treat the therapist in a way that has gotten them what they wanted in other relationships. When they don’t get that response that worked on others, they literally don’t know what to do. The problem is that that they usually push the people away by their behavior that they want to have close.

For example, I had a captain of industry come to see me for help with his wife and kids with whom he was becoming increasingly alienated. He really wanted an intimate relationship with them. But he treated them the way that he treated his managers. That worked for improved profits, but it didn’t get him what he wanted at home. I could have stopped him quickly and reflected that he was managing his family the way he managed his business. He would never have really assimilated that observation. I knew that if we continued our time together that eventually he would try to manage me which he did big time. Then it was appropriate in real time to reflect what he was trying to do with me. He couldn’t deny it. He couldn’t deny how he made me feel. He couldn’t say, “you shouldn’t feel that way.” A guideline in relationships is “how you feel is how you feel. You shouldn’t have to justify it.” It was only then that he could realize that what worked in business, doesn’t work at home. He also saw that his managing style doesn’t create a context for people to what to be with him and work hard for him.” The insight helped him in both environments.

It happened to me as well. When we were in group therapy at Duke, I was constantly challenging the supervisor. It became a competition because that always got me what I wanted. During one of our individual sessions, he reflected that he was a very competitive guy too. I managed to get those juices moving in him in our various entanglements. He indicated that to me which opened a door for me to see how being in constant competition with him wasn’t helping anyone, most of all him and me. As soon as I became aware of it, I could see the behavior as misplaced. A good many of my peers were afraid of him which just added to my feeling for him to know that would never be true for me. Because of my background, I was quick to challenge others. I was able to get that characteristic in more balance so it helped me and, in turn, helped others, but I first had to identify it and own it.

Sometimes what worked for us in the past doesn’t translate well to the present or the future. A caring skilled person can help us to see when that is occurring. It also is true that every human being is capable of figuring that out and helping another whether you are trained or not. Counseling is an art form for all more than a science for the few.

How do I know this? I saw faculty do this so well that being a student’s advisor became as important to them as their role as a student’s teacher. As Head of the Advisory System at our School, it was great to act as a resource to help faculty thrive in their counseling relationships with students and parents. They were the heart of the caring dimension of our school. They taught a student and not a subject. They performed heroic actions with kids on a daily basis and saw counseling as an art form. Because confidentiality is at the center of trust, there were many times that only a few people beyond me would know the difference in students’ lives that they were making each and every day!

The faculty bought into the wisdom of Harry S. Truman that “it is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

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