aving just read an article about therapeutic relationships in the outdoors, I wanted to try to write down the way I work as a therapist. Every therapist works in a different way, even those who are trained in the same theoretical approach. So, two cognitive behavioural therapists will still have subtle different ways of working, even though they are both trained in the same approach. This is why I think it is so important to meet a few therapists before choosing the one that you want to work with: they might all advertise similar things, but they will all feel different when you meet them.
I was trained as a Person-Centred therapist. This means that I work with people in a non-directive way (i.e. I don't set out with an agenda of what we should look at in sessions) as I believe that people themselves know intrinsically what they need to work on in order to move forward; we are experts in our own lives, not on each others lives'. This may sound all wrong, and I can hear people saying "If I knew how to sort out my problems, I wouldn't be coming to see you!". However, all those important experiences and feelings are within you, it is just a matter of understanding what those experiences and feelings mean for you. Therapy is a place to do that work.
So, I don't set an agenda in therapy: you decide what you want to look into in our therapy sessions. What else do I do? Carl Rogers, who started Person-Centred therapy in the 1950s, said that there had to be 6 conditions present in therapy for it to be effective (Rogers, 1957). I will now attempt to explain these in my own words!
- The therapist and client have to have some sort of connection. People speak about having chemistry between them, and that sums up this first factor in a basic way. Hence, if you don't feel chemistry between you and your therapist, you might be off to a bad start.
- The client is coming to therapy with some sort of emotional difficulty, such as anxiety, low mood, hearing voices, anger, etc.
- The therapist will try to be honest in the relationship ("congruent" is the word that Roger's used).
- The therapist tries not to judge the client and what the client talks about. This is so important. We live surrounded by people making judgements about us all the time, and this can lead to problems for the person being judged.
- The therapist tries to empathise (not sympathise) with where the client is at, and to see how life looks through the client's eyes. This is very different to imagining what that same experience would have been like through my eyes. So, just because the client and therapist have both experienced the death of their mother, this does not mean that the therapist will have experienced it in the same way as the client. The therapist also needs to communicate this empathy to the client, usually through talking.
- The client has to be able to understand the therapist's feedback and experience of them.
Roger's stated that when these six factors were present in a therapeutic relationship, healing could take place. We need other people to help us to grow as people because we are social animals, like chimpanzees. However, some relationships that we have can cause harm rather than growth. Therapy is the opportunity to have a new and fresh relationship which is aimed at helping you to work through your difficulties, not about trying to make you fit how others think you should be.
There are other things which go on in therapy. Here are a few:
- People may have had a lack of boundaries growing up, and so therapy maybe all about hitting those boundaries in the therapist, and then being able to explore what that's like in therapy - i.e. in a safe space.
- Some people may keep repeating the same behaviour/reactions in certain situations, such as relationships, which causes them harm. Therapy is a chance to look at those behaviours/reactions from a different point of view and in a safe environment.
- Therapy is also the chance to experience a different kind of relationship. We may expect to get the same reactions from other people about what we are like, and so we in turn respond in the same way. Within the therapeutic relationship we can get a different reaction, and a space to explore what that is like.
- And some people simply want a place to off-load their baggage. They have been carrying it for years, and it is almost getting too heavy for them to carry. Sharing that baggage with a therapist can lighten the load so life feels...lighter.
I also work outdoors with people. Why do I do that? Well, I find it hard to put this into words, but I'll try! We are part of Nature, as oak trees, roe deer, and bacteria are. But, modern, industrial life has driven us away from Nature, and I believe this split has caused us issues. So, alongside the above reasons why therapy helps people, I think that allowing people to work outdoors can help people to reconnect with nature. Here's my attempt at a metaphorical explanation! It might be bit like keeping a dog in a cage, indoors, for years. Due to it's nature, it wants to get outside, and run around, and meet other dogs, and smell the ground. It is quite an aggressive and frustrated dog, and has periods of being quite subdued. And then it goes to a new home where the owner takes it for walks throughout the day, and it meets other dogs, and even has the chance to run free at times. It becomes less anxious and aggressive, and has less periods of being subdued. This is very simplistic, but does give a flavour of what I think urbanisation has done to us. We are more frustrated, more aggressive, more unhappy. Getting outside can be the thing which changes this. It allows us to express those parts of us which cannot be expressed in cities and towns.
If you have any questions about therapy, or the way in which I work, then please post your question below or email me.
Rogers, C (1957): The Necessary and Sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting Psychology, Vol. 21, pp. 95–103