Interact Journal Integrative Ideas for the Process-Oriented Psychotherapist

Categories Supervision Dialogs

On being scared

Sometimes I’m scared when I’m with this person. It’s easy to succumb to that fear, then shut down and do minimal therapy. It’s hard to push forward.

And if you’re scared, assume there is danger. Of course, it’s most likely that the danger is coming from you, not from her.

What do you mean?

Repeat after me and see if this makes sense to you. “Around this woman, sometimes I am a danger to myself. I shut myself down and do minimal therapy.”

(Repeats) Yeah, I guess that’s true. But I’m still scared.

You bet. And again, if you are scared, assume there is danger. So protect yourself. You’ll notice I’m not asking you what it is she does that scares you, because whatever it is, I suspect that shutting down is exactly the right thing for you to do. The trick is to stay conscious while you protect yourself and, at the same time, be aware that most everything that happens in session has something to do with the client’s work.

Your “Self” is the most reliable tool you have in session. Your felt sense is often the way your subconscious mirrors the process of the client. In this case, you might guess that she too, is shut down and minimally responding to the world. If that is your guess, find away to use it.

“What is it you fear right now?”

“I notice I feel scared right now. The fear centers right uh. . . here (touches body). Where in your body do You experience fear this moment?”

“Who else shuts down when you want them to hear you?”

“I notice I’m shutting down. I have a guess that you’re a bit shut down too. Is that true? Let’s both breathe deeply for a minute or two and see what happens.”

Explore how you move through your fear. As you experiment with the articulation of how you are doing it, ideas will come to you regarding ways to invite her to do the same.

Accessing my anger is what I do to get through my fear. It empowers me.

And her anger may empower her. Share with her what you are doing. “I’m going to whack this futon a couple of times . . . There, I feel better. Now you try it.”

Wouldn’t that be taking time away from the client?

No more than shutting down and doing ”minimal therapy.” Any time your emotions, thoughts, or physical needs distract your attention away from the client’s process, either take your body with you when you leave the room, or keep your whole self in the room and use your distraction as a part of the work. As you transcend your shame and embarrassment about being imperfect, you will find your imperfections to be quite useful in your work.


Name the problem, own it, fix it or let it go, then put the attention back on the client. This is great modeling.

What do you mean by “own it”? What if she is yelling at me or something?

Well, it depends on how you define the problem. If you say, “my problem is you are yelling at me,” that makes the other person the problem. If you can say something like, “My problem is I get scared and then I shut down when I hear loud voices,” now you are owning the problem as yours.

Well how would you fix it? Other than getting the yelling person to leave or stop yelling.

If the problem is your problem, then the fix is for you to take action, as opposed to waiting for other guy to do something. Some possibilities:

“Sometimes I shut down when someone yells at me. So, I’m going to leave now (in a minute) and take a break (leave the building, consult with my supervisor, call the police, terminate our session). I’ll be back in five minutes (tomorrow, next week). I’ll be more available then.”

As you are able to transcend your fear and stress, or put it aside for a few moments, you might come up with some other ideas.

“I’m going to sit here a minute, breathe, and just let my shut-down experience be okay.”

“I’m going to yell back. Let’s see who can yell the loudest.”

“Yell that again, even louder. Who else do you want to yell that to?”

“Yelling is so someone will hear you. What part of You isn’t listening?”

“Sometimes I don’t do well with yelling. Actually it’s okay with me that you yell, but it’s not okay that I be in the same room with you while you do it. So what I’m going right now is . . .“ ¯

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