If we lose touch with our core values as practitioners while doing therapy, the work can start to feel mechanical–less like an organic relational dance between two individuals and more like simply toggling back and forth between a set of techniques.
It can help to check in with ourselves every so often about what it is that we want to create with our patients and what we want our work to look like. Of course, every practitioner will have his or her own set of core values that constitute the spirit and heart of their personal work. Depending on therapeutic orientation, training, client base and other contextual factors, values will vary by individual.
Here are a few examples of common core values that many therapists share. Once you’ve read through them, consider writing down what each of these values mean to you, removing or revising any that don’t resonate and adding your own.
As we know, the therapeutic relationship is one of the top determinants of therapeutic success. A quality therapeutic relationship may look different depending on the situation, but it will always contain an element of safety and trust between the practitioner and patient.
Consider the actions you take or don’t take in the service of making your patient feel safe. Do you prioritize safety in the relationship or consider it less important than other things? How do your attempts to establish safety with them work for you? Do you see any areas where you may be able to improve?
Practitioners may have different ideas about what constitutes a quality therapeutic relationship, but many will agree that partnership is a key component. When clients comes to therapy, they may bring with them a sense that the therapist’s job is to “fix” them or rid them of what ails them, but as we know, therapeutic progress takes two.
How do you feel about the idea of partnership as a core quality of the therapeutic relationship? In what ways do you establish a tone of partnership with your clients? Can you think of any ways that you may reinforce a different dynamic, for example, covertly or overtly suggesting that the client is broken, and needs you to fix them?
3. Client Empowerment
If you learned motivational interviewing in graduate school or during your clinical internships, you are probably familiar with the concept of evoking, or drawing out the client’s own wisdom about a situation rather than imposing your own interpretations, opinions or even unsolicited advice upon them.
One way to establish a therapeutic relationship that feels like a safe partnership is by resisting the urge to interpret, create meaning or dominate the conversation about the client’s experience. A person’s best shot at making change comes from his or her own experience of why it’s necessary to do so.
Do you ever notice yourself dominating the conversation in the therapy room? If so, what do you think motivates you to do that? Can you make space for clients to come to their own conclusions in their own time? If not, are you willing to examine your need to control how quickly the person comes to realize his or her own personal motivation to change?
No matter what comes up, compassion should be at the heart of any therapeutic relationship. It can flow in a number of directions, including from the therapist to the patient, from the therapist to him or herself, or from the patient to him or her self.
In compassion-focused therapy, the practitioner will go to great lengths to emphasize that as humans, much of our suffering was not our choice and is not our fault. This belief doesn’t mean that we avoid taking accountability for our actions or blame everything we struggle with on others. It simply means that we maintain the stance that at any given time, we did the best we could with what we had.
This approach helps to activate the part of ourselves that sees into the nature of things, and understands. For clients who struggle with the added injury of shame and self-criticism on top of the maladaptive behaviors or mental health issues that brought them to therapy, compassion can go a long way toward helping to clear the way for healing.
In what ways does compassion show up in your therapeutic work? In what ways might you take steps to facilitate a greater flow of compassion and self-compassion between you and your client?
Consider scheduling some time every six months or so to think about your own values as a practitioner. Maybe you will see that some of your values change and evolve over time, while others endure. Either way, staying in touch with the heart of why you do this work is an important step in achieving your desired results, finding fulfillment and preventing burnout.