One of the things that blocks therapist confidence in experiential work is the fear of getting it wrong. And by that I mean it can even block therapists from undertaking experiential work in the first place.
What has always interested me is what is defined as “getting it wrong.”
Common examples are:
- the exercise flopping
- the client baulking at chairwork
- feeding the client a line that isn’t quite right
- the client experiencing intense emotion or coming out of their window of tolerance
- not feeling 100% in control of what a client will feel, think and disclose
- the fear of taking an expert role in leading the exercise
- the fear of not handling spontaneity, not knowing what to say.
These are not things I consider to be “getting it wrong”. These are all experiences that can and do happen in experiential work. If I were to define them in any way, I would call them information.
Some of these events inform us about the client and how we need to work with the client. What needs to be refined and adjusted to meet the client’s need. Some of them inform us about ourselves as therapists and how we might be limiting ourselves as therapists by playing safe and is likely also a sign post our own discomfort with expressed emotion.
It is certainly the case that there is less chance for surprises when you work more didactically. Spontaneity is very unlikely to smack you in the face when completing a cognitive monitoring sheet. Or when providing psychoeducation or prescribing exercise and meditation apps.
That stuff feels safe. Nobody is flying by the seat of their pants, in a moment by moment kind of a way, when working purely cognitively.
But safe is also stifling.
For therapists and for clients.
Growth and change happens on a deep level when we allow clients to access emotion through experiential work. When we give them permission to move out of the safe and tightly held world of their thoughts and their existing narrative of self, they can come into contact with their pain in a supported way. For many clients this might be the first time they have had this supported experience.
As therapists we also learn a lot more about clients when we work experientially.
- The narrative a client presents to us on day one to explain their circumstances becomes richer and more complex allowing us to access more information about the client and that allows us to better help
- Through the use of experiential techniques such as imagery, we will be able to help the client access a different narrative to the one the client had led themselves to believe
- Clients also better connect with what they feel, how they feel, where they feel it and what triggers their feelings
- Clients better understand parts of themselves, thereby making self-compassion more accessible.
What if risking getting it “wrong” is exactly what you need to be doing to be getting it right in therapist land?
Your clients need you to be brave enough to model that emotional experiences are just that, just experiences in which we learn about ourselves and within which we have choices in how we respond, they are not wrong or right.
If you’re working on your comfort levels with being brave enough to get it wrong, I recommend choosing just one thing and commit to being brave in each session or at least once a day. Expose yourself to the uncomfortable feeling of working with emotion and spontaneity as often as you can.
Want more confidence- be brave enough to get it wrong.
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