Hello, I will be starting some series of posts related to the list of psychological tools included on my About page. The goal of this series is to explain to you what they entail and how they are used in psychotherapy. Apart from various types of therapy that consist common ground of philosophy and research, every therapist brings something personal to a table. Some are more active, some more passive, some use philosophy of only nurturing and allowing things to flow, some use more solution focused approaches. And the way they are delivered relate to personality characteristics of a therapist too, for example a solution focused approach can be delivered in more technical way or more empathetic and flexible way. A personality of a therapist plays an important role in therapeutic work. We are humans, not machines. The congruence with an inner self helps to connect with people and gain their trust. Nobody likes games and manipulations or just blank stare. In this post I will explain you my approach taking under consideration CBT type of therapy and my personality. So let’s get to know each other a bit 🙂
The first point from the list on my About page mentions active but empathetic approach. What does it mean ACTIVE? It means that a therapist guides, asks questions and helps you to find answers basing them on the story you are sharing. In other words, helps you to connect the dots. The therapist will give you feedback on patterns in this story and probable influences, a professional opinion, probable interpretation based on scientific knowledge on human nature and his/her own training. Please note that not all psychotherapists are psychologists and vice versa, a training varies from scientific to philosophical approach. Therefore not all feedback will be based on research yet some subjects are difficult to measure, philosophical “rule of thumb” can also do the work.
Additionally an active approach involves suggestions, a direct guidance and structure, questions and probing, challenging perception and thinking (CBT) and homework (CBT). In order to give you a contrast, a passive approach relates to understanding of an emotional support from the point of empathy, active listening and non judgement, leading to a person opening up to self reflection. That in turn relates to a belief that a person needs just that to find his own answers to his problems. The passive approach was a first approach that was used in psychotherapy by psychoanalysis and then humanistic model followed. CBT and related to it Schema, REBT, DBT, introduced active ways to track feeling, emotions, to apply questionnaires and form case hypothesis in order to help a patient. Yet, the misconception is that active approach does not include humanistic components of empathy and listening which is wrong. Those components are included in the process yet, they are not the main tools but more a “butter on the slice”. Nothing will drop inside us if we are not feeling comfortable and respected. That is why active/directive but empathetic approach has been highlighted on my list.
Empathy means that a person is able to grasp your inner world and have compassionate understanding of it. It takes care of you in the process of exploration. Even if there is challenging involved it is not attacking but curious juggling of the ideas. Sometimes people are not ready to hear a different perspective and are triggered to the point of engaging in defence mechanisms, they can get angry, feel hurt or become argumentative. They may expect perfection from therapist to match their needs. Then active approach can be challenging and not suitable for you. The therapist role is to try navigate those moments towards constructive outcome yet nothing will be done if the client is not open to overcome it either. We are A TEAM! One of the best tools, in my opinion, is a sense of humor (which will be explored in later posts). And believe me, I have one :-). The importance of constant feedback is also crucial therefore being open to share even the most difficult doubts, thoughts or hurt feelings will help therapist to adjust better to your process.
Putting all together, an active/directive but empathetic approach involves both soft and solid components. It involves direct feedback on issues, patterns of behaviour and thinking, it gives suggestions and guidance. But also includes care and respect, kindness and consideration. The skilful juggle of those components increase the smoothness of the process and therefore benefits. Nothing is better for your improvement like taking an action with a positive attitude.
Hope that helps and to the next time.