Ask me who is responsible for my recovery: I will argue that it is irrefutably all down to my amazing therapist. Without him I would not be where I am today. It is an unequivocal fact in my mind. Ask me who is responsible for the progress I see in the lives of my clients: I will argue just as strongly that it is all down to them, their courage, dedication, engagement and hard work.
So ask me with my Both Sides hat on who is responsible for recovery, and I guess I have to conclude that it is both client and therapist. My therapist does have an awful lot of qualities and skills that facilitated my recovery through our coming together. There are certainly many therapists I previously encountered who did not have those qualities or skills with whom I was not able to recover. A good therapist does make a world of difference.
But the client is the one with the power to take the journey or to stand still. They are the one who has all the pain inside of them, and they are the one who knows when the desire for change outweighs the desire to run from all that is ouchie. They are the one who makes themselves vulnerable to a stranger despite their trust being crushed so badly in their past. They are the one who doesn’t give up when it gets tough, who works through it, shows up, and keeps on trying the doing things differently which is at the core of therapy.
When I meet clients, I meet people who believe they are the weakest, most powerless people in the world. I hear them. I felt weak and powerless in their place too. I don’t wish to take away from that experience – it is where they are, it is their reality. What I do slowly try to offer is a little insight from my side of the room. I see the most kickass warriors I’ve ever had the privilege to meet. Staying alive another day is a victory for these people… yet they don’t just manage that, they somehow leave their house, which involves clothes and way too many other humans, and they turn up and talk to me, also another human. For anyone with trauma and anxiety, they’re basically stepping into their idea of hell because they have this tiny but persistent belief that this is the only way left to try for things to get better.
So recovery is an alliance. We often call it the ‘therapeutic alliance’, and my absolute all time favourite quote from Carl Rogers sums up what this means perfectly: ‘In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?’
I’m so glad I found this quote at the start of my career. I have been able to focus all of my efforts on providing a relationship that is conducive to change, and very little of my efforts on any ponderings of how I can actually change the client. The client changes themselves. The client is changed by the relationship. Neither of us could do it alone… the change comes about from the experience of things being done differently… from the experience of being respected, valued, believed, heard, seen, and allowed to be. The best and I think only cure for toxic relationships is the experience of a healthy relationship. That’s what therapy provides.