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  • Writer's pictureQuique Autrey

The Terror and Exhilaration of Trusting Yourself

I recently finished Paul J. Leslie's wonderful book Perceptions and Possibilities: Strategic and Solution-Oriented Approaches to Working with Depression. As I write this blog, I'm reflecting on my recent conversation with him on Psyche Podcast. I've read another one of his books in the past, and look forward to reading more in the weeks and months to come.

I've also spent time this week listening to several interviews he did with New Thinking Allowed. These conversations ranged from the work of Milton Erickson, to Alejandro Jodorowsky to paranormal experiences in the psychotherapeutic setting. Leslie's interests are vast and I find myself resonating with his open and creative approach to life and psychotherapy.

Before I proceed, I feel it's important to admit that I've developed a bit of a transference toward Leslie. I don't see this as a pathology but rather a means of connecting with him and really going deep into his work.

It's amazing to me how much Leslie reminds me of Fred Rogers (who I also share a special affective bond with). His warm and patient tone, as well as his kindness and commitment to loving interaction with others, gets me thinking of the beloved children's television star. There are many ways in which I also try to emulate this same demeanor and empathic presence with the people in my life.

In what follows, I hope to reflect on one of the important strands that we highlighted in our recent conversation together.

A Plethora of Therapy Trainings, Techniques and Interventions

During our conversation, Leslie noted there are over 500 different types of therapy today. Whether you're scrolling through social media or thumbing through a counseling magazine, you'll be inundated with the latest and greatest certification course that promises wonders for a hefty price tag.

I have many colleagues who spend countless hours and thousands of dollars each year completing the latest course, attending the flashiest conference and putting another few letters behind their name. Their stated goal is to be as trained, knowledgeable and skilled as they possibly can. While this may be the genuine motivation for some therapists, I would argue that for many, it's a way to sooth their anxiety and insecurity about their work with people. I get the sense that all the certifications and courses help defend against a deeper lack of faith in themselves as healers.

Returning to The Therapeutic Alliance

I was recently asked by a colleague how I was able to keep such a full schedule and maintain such a strong retention rate. I was taken aback by the question. This particular person has a very different approach to therapy than I do. He is an excellent therapist but far more interested in the numbers, trends and evidence-based research. I didn't know how to respond because I don't believe that I can operationalize my unique therapeutic style.

I responded to his question by saying that I make the strength and vitality of the therapeutic alliance the most important part of my therapy. Although I am an introvert, I am a people person. I have always had a gift connecting with people and creating a space where they feel deeply listened to.

Most people would say that I come across as a genuine person and exude an energy that I genuinely care about them. I don't believe you can learn how to do this by reading a book or taking an online course. My authenticity as a therapist comes from developing a profound relationship to myself. This has taken decades to cultivate and has been forged in the crucible of my own personal therapy and much hardship and suffering.

While there's nothing wrong with getting more training or learning more information, it's no substitute for attending to the therapeutic alliance. As Leslie and others have noted, which specific therapeutic intervention a therapist utilizes is not the most effective factor in psychotherapy. They all work! Time and time again, research has shown the quality of the relationship between the therapist and the client is the most significant factor in a client's overall progress.

The Terror and Exhilaration of Trusting Yourself

I'm currently working through Leslie's great book The Art of Creating a Magical Session: Key Elements For Transformative Psychotherapy. One of the chapters is entitled "The Magic of the Unknown." Leslie begins the chapter with these words:

Humans have an innate fascination and fear of the unknown. We are drawn to the mysterious, yet we also move away from it because of its hidden nature. Mystery is not for those who want predictability in their lives, for mystery calls us to become accessible to what is not known.

However, it is through the unknown that we capture new ideas and from those ideas we grow in new ways. The mysterious inner world of our clients provides us with unique opportunities to explore the unfamiliar, for a magical session is strongly rooted in mystery. In a magical atmosphere, new ideas and actions appear precisely at the right moment, but we may have little clue from where they came. To invite magic into a session, we must welcome the unexpected, for it is from this mysterious space that our best interventions can arise (p.20).

In our podcast conversation, Leslie and I agreed that stepping into the unknown of psychotherapy is both terrifying and exhilarating. Every time I start a session with a new client, I have no idea where it's going to go. That is scary and challenges my desire for control. At the same time, my curiosity is peaked and I feel excited about the prospect of learning something new about myself and my client.

Going back to my field's obsession with training and techniques, I sometimes wonder if all the emphasis on those things is an unconscious defense mechanism against the inherent mystery and unknown of the therapeutic experience. I have a suspicion that many therapists latch on to the latest "evidence-based strategy" as a way of countering the surge of uncertainty that comes with the mystery of interaction with another human being.

I agree with Leslie that our clients have the inner resources to heal themselves. What they need from us is a strong relationship and a creative environment where they can activate their self-healing.

Leslie encourages us to move beyond the "safety of our treatment plans and instead dive into the dark depths of the unknown." (p. 28).

"Dive into the dark depths of the unknown." I think this is a clarion call for all therapists. We need to step away from the false security of certifications and trainings and experience the terror and exhilaration of trusting ourselves.

I may not always have the right answers and I'm sure I'll make mistakes. That's ok. Attending to the therapeutic relationship, asking for feedback when we sense something is off, and creatively interacting with our clients is what can help them tap into their inner resources and enact change in their lives.

Spend less time and money on certifications. Spend more time getting to know the great mystery that you are. This commitment to knowing and trusting yourself will be worth so much more than anything you can learn from a course or program online.

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