The Therapist is a Client

I’ve been working with a personal trainer for the few months, and am struck by how many similarities it shares with the therapeutic process. When a client comes in for therapy, they know they want to change, but don’t know how to do it. I educate them, mostly about thoughts, feelings, and the mind’s power to work for, or against, a goal. I give them psycho-educational tools of change, and when they can use the tools proficiently without me, they go off on their own.

This is exactly what is happening to me as a training client. I knew I wanted to change, and had years on my own to prove that my way wasn’t working. My trainer, Christine Hardy (link here), is educating me, mostly about muscles and food and the mind’s power to work for, or against, a goal. She’s giving me physio-educational tools of change, and when I can use them proficiently without her, I’ll go off on my own.

My first few weeks of training were rough. I had to change enormous sections of my life – most notably diet, time management, and physical comfort. Knowing what I needed to do and having a guide on the path were great, but I could see how long the journey would take, and I was overwhelmed with the enormity of it. There were days that I could barely move, days where I was so tired I couldn’t keep my eyes open, and days where I swore if I saw another bowl of oatmeal I would lose my mind. Results seemed far, far away.

My clients feel this way too. Once we identify their part in whatever is troubling them, they have to make enormous changes – most notably in the thoughts they think, the reactions they have, and the choices they make. They want to do it, and they know I’ll guide them, but the journey looks to be long, and they are frequently overwhelmed with the enormity of it. I know they have days when it all seems too big to fix, days when their mind is out to murder their ass, days when feelings seem to run right over rational thought. Results seem far, far away to them too.

Being a training client is helping me to be a better therapist. It’s making me more sensitive to how vulnerable it feels to trust someone to guide you in an area you’ve never been.

Christine is certain that her diet, weight regime and cardio plan will produce the results I am looking for. I am not. Progress is slow, and I hurt almost all of the time. Likewise, when I have a new client come in for depression, or anxiety, or grief, I am certian that psycho-education, new coping skills and other treatment goals will produce the results they are looking for. They are not so sure.

Since beginning this training, I have been spending more time telling my clients about the journey they are undertaking, and what they can expect in a day, a week, a month, a year. I have been reminded of what it’s like to need hope, concrete measurable hope, and now I am offering more of this to my clients as a result.

Christine and I do pretty much the same thing. We help people move beyond their limited ideas about themselves. We teach them new, more effective ways to reach their goals. We challenge them when they think they can’t go on, and hold the faith for them until they can hold it themselves.

I wouldn’t have thought that lunges and sit ups and kickboxing and waaaaay too much oatmeal could take me on such a therapeutic journey, and I’m grateful for the experience of being “the client” again.

I confess though, that I’m a little jealous of her ability to say “get your head out of your ass”, when I have to say “let’s see if we can change that self-defeating behavior”.

(Originally posted Feb 3rd, 2009)

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