Interact Journal Integrative Ideas for the Process-Oriented Psychotherapist

Categories Supervision Dialogs

On educating clients

Do you suggest ever just telling a client something, that is, educating him?

Sure. Honor a client’s need to know. The intellect is as much a part of a person’s organism as his intuition. Often, once the intellect understands, it will give permission for the rest of the personality to begin the integrative work.

In general, tell what you know once, then trust that the information is somewhere in the listener’s brain to be recalled or re-invented when he needs it. If you find yourself repeating the telling, then most likely you have an agenda and are part of the system, or, at that moment, your client is not available to be educated.

What kind of agenda?

A couple of guesses might be that you want him to understand, that you want him to pay attention, or perhaps that you want him to be enriched by your teaching. If you are “educating,” you can tell you have no agenda, when once you deliver the information, you are emotionally unaffected by the listener’s response. When you have an agenda, his response determines your sense of competency.

He gets internal and encounters himself, then comes out of the work and wants to figure out what he is doing. I find myself doing little snippets of educating. I figure he’s resisting but somehow it seems right to answer his questions. How much do I educate and how much do I just keep inviting him back into his work?

Trust yourself. Pay attention to process, honor his need to understand and continue to invite him to encounter himself.

Keep reminding yourself that resistance is not bad; resistance only means there is fear. Enough knowledge often leads to a decrease in fear, and as fear is diminished, safety is perceived. Permission to take chances is internally granted. One of the rewards psychology students get out of graduate school is permission to acknowledge the many facets of the human subconscious and the impact that internal, unresolved issues from the past have on a person’s current life.

Your client does not want a master’s degree in psychology. But he is interested in the subject. So he pays you for an intensive lecture and laboratory course instead. As his intellect begins to understand, he gives himself permission to introspect, then to become conscious, then to stay with his internal experience. So when he asks you a psychological question, give the condensed version of a Psychology 1A lecture and invite him back to his laboratory.

What if the client is, in fact, a graduate student in psychology?

It seems unreasonable to expect a non- psychotherapist to re-invent the psychological wheel. It does seem reasonable however, to support its re-invention by a psychotherapist gonna-be.

If your client is or is planning to be a psychotherapist, he is getting his lecture material elsewhere. Either direct his questions back to him or invite his attention back to his process, which in this case appears to be dependency, a refusal to use his own brain, insistence on looking externally for answers, or a choice to talk-about rather than to connect with himself.

What if, after you answer one question, he asks you another?

If after his questions are answered, he appears to be resolved with the subject and available to return to introspective work, answer the questions until he is done. If you determine that his questions are his way of distracting from his work, invite him to notice that process.

(A week later) Again, I spent much of the time educating in the last session. He practiced confronting and said he really got a lot out of the session. From my point of view, teacher is not my first choice of role to be in. It felt like a watered down version of psychotherapy.

Would you call it counseling?

Yes. And I’m willing to do some of that. But even if the client feels safer during a session where instruction in the main activity, I believe my job is to lean on him a little and invite him to encounter himself. So I answer his questions and I tell him I’m going to keep inviting him to introspect.

The challenge here is the same as always, to be free of investment in the outcome. It may be a year before he is able to spend more than a few seconds connected internally. He apparently is not yet ready to push the Go Ahead button for experiential or emotional work.

I do respect his intellectual need to understand things. On the other hand I’d guess that his insistence on knowing what is happening is how he stays safe from ever looking at some of his deeper struggles.

Say that to him often, at least once every session.

I’m a little afraid he will leave therapy if I push him too hard.

So your struggle is between scaring him off by doing a good job or boring yourself by not doing a good job. You are afraid he will leave because he is not getting what he really needs even though he is protesting against it.


Trust yourself completely. Make the best decision you can in the moment. You will be doing a competent job as long as you do not have an agenda for him, you are not part of his system, and your focus is on his process.

Have the intention for yourself that you gently but relentlessly invite him to encounter himself. Let it be okay when he does not accept your invitations.

Clients sometimes get permission to work deeply from watching other people. To effect that, suggest he attend a workshop or group where the members do therapeutic work. Once he determines that other people work deeply and survive, he may give himself permission to do the same.

Another idea is to work directly with the resistance. “Let’s do that again. In your mind, return to a few seconds ago when you wanted to figure out what you were doing. This time, before you form a question into words, pay attention to what it is you fear.” “See if you can find a way to protect yourself other than asking a question.”

“Be the voice of the part of you who Needs-To-Know. Okay, now be the voice of the opposite of that. Continue having a conversation between the two.”

“How do you stop yourself from obtaining your therapeutic goals?” ¯

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