Relationally-Directed Therapy

by Mental Health

Change is difficult, at least so says common wisdom and the refrain of most anyone faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges. From learning a new skill and changing careers, to losing weight, change is that curious process that feels difficult at the beginning and seems to collapse under its own impetus when completed. Consider for a moment, change is only considered hard when facing it, but is often taken for granted when behind. The power of change is at once both large as a mountain and light as a feather, dependent entirely on perspective. Relationally-directed therapy focuses on the therapeutic relationship as the space that supports change.

We don’t often consider just how much of our life has already gone through enormous change. Our bones have knit themselves anew over and over again as they grow, new skin rises to the surface again and again throughout our lives, and the behavior that once seemed so clearly appropriate is, later in life, deemed silly and absurd. The lightness of change that has already passed can often give us a false appraisal for how difficult it felt at the time and blind us to the fact that we never went through the process alone.

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Change doesn’t exist without connection to others. Whether it was that friend in grade school who was a balm to the bullying, or that encouraging teacher, or the lover who taught us a new appreciation for intimacy, the change process weaves in and through the relationships of our lives. This is often difficult to see, as our thoughts contribute to personal narratives that have at their center…us. Ken Wilber notes:

“The point is that my thoughts themselves arise in a cultural background that gives texture and meaning and context to my individual thoughts, and indeed, I would not even be able to “talk to myself” if I did not exist in a community of individuals who also talk to me.” (Wilber)

That moment when the “voice in our head” that is mother, father, sibling, coach, or friend, is not cause for alarm, it is a recognition that our lives are relational, even to the building of our “own” thoughts.

For many, change can be encouraged and helped along by being involved in some form of therapy. As the relational component of so many of the change processes in our lives are forgotten or ignored, therapy essentially brings this truth front and center. It practically screams in its initial formality of paperwork and goal-setting that your personal journey will not be done alone.

Relationally-Directed Therapy

The following is advice for relationally-directed therapists, but it serves as a reminder to everyone:

“Start by realizing that it isn’t useful to label a client as resistant, says W. Bryce Hagedorn, an addictions counselor in Orlando, Florida. The resistance, he says, comes from the client-counselor relationship – in particular, how a counselor approaches change.” (Meyers)

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What may appear as resistance is part of the therapeutic relationship, in particular how it deals with the issue of change. Too much pressure/pushing from counselor to client or from client to counselor to take responsibility for the change process is essentially to ignore or deliberately remove oneself from the relational flow that change requires.

“Because the therapeutic relationship is so crucial to the counseling process, a counselor cannot go forward without gaining the trust of the client, says Vegges-White, a past president of the Association for Adult Development and Aging, a division of the ACA.” (Meyers)

Trust cannot exist without an acknowledgment of the mutually-held space that is the therapist-client connection. Therapeutic theories will speak of “transference,” but this is simply another name for what is inevitable in any relationship, a weaving of perspectives to build a new narrative for effective change to emerge from.

This is why some relationships don’t work out, whether they be therapeutic or other forms. Rather than viewing the process as a mutual care-taking of generation, one or the other attempts to, in some way, “take the reins.” As I’m sure horses can attest to, they don’t like a bit digging into their mouths, and it doesn’t take much imagination to consider that people don’t either.

When looking at relationally-directed therapy, it’s important to keep in mind the change process being pursued. There is a very real sense in which the person who begins it is not the same person who moves along and eventually completes it. There is something new in your life and that is the perspective of having trudged up a mountain and seen the feather that it turned into on the other side.

Resources:

Meyers, Laurie. Counseling Today. January 2016. “Scaling Client Walls.”

Wilber, Ken (2011-08-18). The Eye of Spirit: An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad (Kindle Locations 533-535). Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition.


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