“…In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?” ~Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person, p.32
What is our real work?
It’s easy to think that the role of a psychotherapist is to treat a person or help our clients change. Indeed, that may be the outcome we hope for. But it’s not the work that we need to put in.
Our real work is not to treat a person. We conflate the outcome we desire with the work that we need to put in, in order to get that outcome.
Our real work is more like a gardener than a builder.
A builder builds, and when that’s done, the work is done. A gardener lays the ground work, and waits for the seeds to grow. A builder’s work is finite. A gardener’s work is never done. She continues to tend to the plants, nurtures and prunes its branches.
Like a gardener, a therapist real work is in the pre-work.
It’s what we do outside of the therapy hour,
in order to get better at what we do in the ritual of therapy.
Once I had a chat with my neighbor while we were moving out the bins. I asked, “What do you do for work?”
“I’m an accountant.”
“I’m really curious. What made you decide to do this?”
“You know, Daryl, many people hate balancing spreadsheets (Maybe he knows that I’m one of those people). But somehow I can, and I’m good at it. So I figured that might just be the way I can help people.”
My neighbor works as an accountant. But his real work is to help people. Every work that we do, is embedded with the real work that drives us, that has a ton of intrinsic value and deep history. It’s the thing that gets us off our beds every morning. It is the “Why we do what we do.”
It’s safe to assume that most therapists get into this profession in order to be helpful. I think it’s important to search inside ourselves and return to our Why’s. We should return to our Why’s as often as we bath: Daily. Then we can proceed with the What and the How to get better.
Don’t make the mistake of focusing on only the How. It’s tempting. Workshops, CPE, and trainings lures us to make this assumption. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. Figure out your What and your Why.
Perhaps our real work is to be of service. A good receptionist isn’t just someone who greets you at the front desk. A good waiter isn’t just someone who serves you food. A person who is of good service is someone who cares for you as another human being. They welcome you with their entire being, and make you feel good about yourself.
In order to be of good service to those in need or distress, we’ve got to continue to figure out ways to nurture ourselves like a gardener (a builder is analogous to a therapist who thinks that his degrees qualifies him to do the work—that he’s “done”.) and continue to reinvent the way we help our clients.
Stephen DeStaebler says, “Artists don’t get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working.” To do our real work well is hard work. LIke a gardener, it’s not an one-shot effort.
Ask yourself: “Why did you become a psychotherapist/counsellor/psychologist?” “Why did you want to help people?”
In memory of the late Eugene Gendlin, ask these questions and patiently get a felt sense of this; let your body speak. There is no right answer, only a real answer.
May we continue our real work.