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Being a Psychotherapist 4: Stay with what comes

There are many different approaches to psychotherapy that inform what happens in the therapeutic relationship. We each have our own theoretical understanding, and our own lived experience, and both influence who and how we are as therapists.

One tenet that consistently runs through therapeutic approaches though, is to stay with what is arising in the room. Why is this?

Clients come to psychotherapy to talk about and address things that they have not been able to process on their own. In my experience, this is often because they have not been able to safely make space for and stay with whatever it is that is coming up and perhaps getting stuck. The feeling, the thought, the body sensations they are experiencing are somehow bigger than them, or are looping despite their every effort, and there is no movement.

When this is the case clients may come into psychotherapy with an ambivalence. They want to be different, to move past their pain and stuckness. However, they also do not want the pain of facing what is troubling them. They may have all manner of ways of not quite going there, of deflecting, skimming over, or outright avoiding what is really going on.

Tempting and sometimes useful as confronting may be in these circumstances, there is another powerful way of being in the therapy room that I often find offers more healing.

Stay with it. Gently explore what is happening right here, right now. Find out about the behaviours that are coming up. Let both the defences and the symptoms reveal their gifts and offer their healing, for the client already has what they need to heal, it just needs bringing into the light and connecting up. If you run away from it, following the client’s diversions, you give a message that yes, it is too hot to handle, and no, it is not safe to go there.

I find the flexibility language can offer quite wonderful in helping people to stay with what is. David Grove’s work, articulated by Penny Tompkins and James Lawley as Clean Language offers an excellent set of questions that enable the client to really find out more about what is happening, free of judgement, the therapist’s view of the world, or an imperative to change. Simply asking ‘and is there anything else about that’ and ‘what kind of…’ can be hugely illuminating.

For it is an irony that to change, we first must accept completely how and who we are. We must sense how we are creating our current reality to set free the possibility of a new way of being.

As a psychotherapist, hold the client’s outcomes in mind, and let them guide the trajectory of the work. But hold them lightly, and remember that when you stop trying to change anything and simply take joy in your client’s discovery and exploration, then change will happen all on its own.


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