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  • Fe Robinson

Being a Psychotherapist 1: Turn Up

I was asked recently what it is that I do as a psychotherapist. It would be easy to give a simple answer describing the kinds of clients who come to see me, or the overall process of our working together, but actually it was a question that caused me to reflect deeply. Just what is it I do?

This prompted me to begin a short series of blogs on the theme of Being a Psychotherapist, aimed at fellow Psychotherapists, and clients alike. In this first blog on this theme I am exploring the idea of Turning Up.

At a basic level, Turning Up is about being in your therapeutic space in good time, organised and ready to see your client. It matters to create a space that is restful and welcoming, and ready for the client. Ideally the client knows they have your full attention from the moment of arriving, sensing you have had them in mind prior to this. The focus here is on containment for you both.

Turning up is also about the attitude of mind you bring to being in the room. Some days it might be easy to be physically sat in the room, but to be distracted, tired, impatient, in pain...any number of emotions, thoughts or sensations could be so present for you that in reality you are there, and yet not there.

In days gone by, the advice might have been to leave your troubles at the door, to separate work and home. In some jobs I guess this may have some merit, but being a psychotherapist is not one of them. There is no separation, our whole self is present in some form whatever we do, and so we need to actively work with how we show up.

Being a psychotherapist calls us to be fully present. To be grounded and tuned in to whatever is present in our own bodymind, at the same time as we make good space to be available to our client. The two are not separate, how could they be?

We can not be present for someone else without first doing so for ourselves. One of my teachers in hypno-psychotherapy used to say 'the client has the first induction.' By this she meant if you want to induce a particular bodymind state in someone else, first you embody it yourself.

As psychotherapists we invite clients to come to us and bring their whole self. To feel able to express what has previously been unsayable, perhaps even unknowable.

If we want clients to do this, it is our responsibility to hold ourselves to the same standard. Turn up, be present, face in to what is arising and passing within you, and be truthful with yourself. When we are in touch with ourselves fully, we can notice and utilise what is arising as we work with clients, enabling insight and providing mirroring so that the client can experience themselves more fully.

Sometimes grounding practices, personal reflection and the use of regular supervision is sufficient for us to do this. Sometimes we may need a little therapeutic support, with either physical or talking therapies being helpful for us too. Sometimes we may need to be honest about our need for time out, for lower intensities of work, or for less work for a while.

Turning up gives psychotherapists an obligation to be tuned in to our own wellbeing and to actively manage it. To notice patterns in our emotional availability, in our relational selves, and in the effectiveness of our work. Having first become fully present in a session, we can then, with an open heart and sincere curiosity, be there for clients, enlivened and full of wonder. As we do this, we invite our clients to do the same.


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