Years ago I was on an all-girls trip with a group of childhood friends. We had decided to reunite at a friend’s cottage for New Year’s Eve. We were all catching each other up on our lives as most of us had not seen each other for a few years. When it was my turn to tell my friends about what I had been up to since we had last met, I talked at length about school, work, hobbies, and travel. One of my girlfriends asked me about my love life, whether I had been dating or if I was in a serious relationship. I said “no, actually, I have been single for a while now”. Another friend said, “Wow, I am impressed, I wish I could be single for a while”. She explained that she had been in a series of short and long term relationships and she envied my courage to be able to be on my own. This statement made me think. It was true; I had never been the type to consistently and continuously be in intimate relationships. However, I had the realization that it wasn’t that I had the courage to be single; it was that I did not have the courage to be in a relationship again after my last break up.
About a year or so before that trip, I was in a relationship that had ended and had left my self-esteem and ego scarred. I realized that I am happy putting all my focus on my career and studies and to avoid the life task of love. Although that was fine for the time being, my lack of desire to date did not feel temporary. I felt something had changed and moved within me and had left me numb and uninterested in being in an intimate relationship.
As soon as I came back home, I picked up the phone and called the university’s health center in search for a psychotherapist. Now this was years before, I myself, became a therapist and this was not my first experience with therapy. I had had limited and brief encounters with other therapists and felt that while they were ‘nice’ and good listeners, I was mostly unchanged after a good amount of time and monetary investment.
This time I was very clear on my issue and I needed it seriously looked at. Now, let me tell you, I was realistic, I was not expecting my therapist to give me a magic pill, and for me, to be all cured. No, I just knew I wanted someone who would, yes, listen to me, but also challenge me. Someone who could help me reveal my dysfunctional patterns and help me understand why I was running away from this particular life task. Someone who could help me change my thinking and open myself up to new possibilities. I guess I didn’t just need a ‘nice’ therapist anymore. I didn’t need someone who would listen to me, nod their head, and paraphrase my words, accurately pinpoint my feelings, and feed my words back to me. Don’t get me wrong, empathy and reflective listening are the hallmark of the good work of any good therapist and you absolutely need to have this basic skill to even qualify as a therapist. But I needed more than that…I needed to be challenged appropriately. I needed a wakeup call. I needed someone to help me snap out of my dormant state. I needed a push out of my comfort zone. The comfort zone that was keeping me buried in my safe cocoon. The comfort zone that ensured I would never be at risk of being rejected or hurt again.
So finally time came for my first appointment with my new therapist. I sat down on her chair and straight out said “ok, so, can I be honest with you?, I need someone who will do more than just sit and validate my feelings and is ‘nice’ to me, I know what my problem is and I am ready to do something about it. I don’t want you to fix me, but I need you to help me overcome this, in a real way.”
At first, I could see that she was taken aback; but she gathered herself in a matter of a few seconds and said while it is up to me to show up, and really show up, and do the work, she felt confident that she could do more than just be ‘nice’ and listen to my feelings. And just that she did. She challenged my beliefs and helped me form new ones. We dug deep into my dysfunctional patterns and I actually felt safe enough to allow myself to be vulnerable in her presence. Although she wasn’t just a ‘nice’ therapist, she was ‘kind’, she was direct, and appropriately challenging. She must have made me feel safe because I remember her being very empathic at moments in the session when I was broken into pieces and needed mending.
Now almost a decade later, sitting in the therapist chair, I reflect back on that experience and I commit myself to being more than just a ‘nice’ therapist. I often let clients know that I am aware that it took a lot for them to be here, financially, emotionally, and timewise. I want to honor them by making sure I make the most of their session. I always ask their permission before I challenge their views and beliefs, but I make it my duty as a good therapist to kindly challenge my client’s unproductive views. The views that keep them stuck and immobile in whatever life task they are working on. There are days, however, that I tell clients, I won’t challenge you today; today, you just need to be understood and listened to. The key is being attuned and to see what the client needs in the moment. Not being afraid to dig deep and be real with people while being respectful of their boundaries and space. That is what I believe will create lasting change in people who are courageous enough to seek change.
Sabrina Golchin is a mother, wife, entrepreneur, writer, university instructor, public speaker, workshop presenter, therapist, and parent coach who lives, works, and plays in Woodbridge, Ontario. She holds a Masters in Counselling Psychology. She is the proud owner of Life in Harmony Counselling Services www.lifeinharmony.ca which provides counselling services people healing from, going through, or contemplating a relationship break up or divorce. She also coaches parents on effective communication and co-parenting after separation. She provides in person, on the phone, or on skype counselling sessions to clients all over Canada.
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