What if one of the ways of transforming our practice in psychotherapy is to stop calling it talk therapy, but to see it as a performance ritual?
What if we stop talking, and start performing?1
I suspect that if we step beyond therapy models, and see our work as a therapeutic and healing endeavor, we can begin to embrace it is a performance ritual.
In gist, here’s how most therapy goes: Once we create a space and a climate of safety, we dive into the sea of one’s human suffering, and hopefully, in the act of the two or more humans coming together weaving a “believable myth”2 (be it addressing cognitive distortions, self-critical markers, past traumas, etc.), growth and change can happen.
The act of two persons working as “of one mind”3 , should not be relegated to a manual’s precription or one (or even two) dogmas. Neither should it be left to “make things up” as we go. Here’s why:
The moment we start to see therapy as a performance, we can break it down into component parts.
Here are some examples:
1. How do you prepare for a session?4
2. How do you begin a session/subsequent session?
3. How do you establish an effective focus with your client?
4. How do you deepen the emotional experiencing?
5. How do you close a session with an impact?
…Etc. (See a related post on Figure Out the “What” Before the “How”)
To those who see therapy as an art form, we can begin to learn to set the stage to enliven the possiblity of deep human interaction, and weave a structure to what seems un-structured to the naive eye. (Even music and theatre improvisers follow a set of rules in their seemingly free-form jams5).
To those who see therapy as more of a science-based pursuit, we can afford to develop some hypothesis for fruitful and – God forbid – playful creation. We can learn to be more responsive6 and utilise7 what each person bring of themselves into the therapy room.
Afterall, there is a creative art form in science, and there is a methodical science in art.
Once we see things in component parts, things get more complicated than they seem. Ask a person to rate how well they know about how a toilet flush works, and enquire again after you ask the same person to list out, in detailed step-by-step fashion of how the whole ceramic bowl and flushing systems work, their self-assessment ratings are more than likely to dip.
That said, by breaking things down into its component parts, it allows a devoted practitioner to develop a focused deliberate practice plan to improve at that particular area8.
What have your identified to work on, that has a leverage on improving your outcomes?
The moment we “stop talking, and start performing,” we invite a different way of seeing our work. We can then invite a host of repetitore that can lit up a fire of engagement in this thing we can psychotherapy.
As musician Frank Zappa says, “The mind is a like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.”
Daryl Chow, PhD
1. I came around to this term by interviews with Michael Port and Amy Port on the Art of Charm podcasts. Michael Port elaborates further in his book, Steal the Show.
2. Jerome Frank’s (1993) book, Persuasion and Healing is a seminal read.
3. Doug Flemons book is titled “Of One Mind.” Though it is primarily about hypnosis, I think it’s a highly relevant read for engaging with someone in therapy.
4. See a brilliant recent 2017 book by Daniel McGinn, Psyched Up
5. I highly recommend Patricia Madison’s Improv Wisdom. For those who are interested in the world of music improvisation, Derek Bailey’s Improvisation is a must-read)
6. see Ben Stilles’s work on Responsivity. E.g., Stiles, W. B., Honos-Webb, L., & Surko, M. (1998). Responsiveness in psychotherapy. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 5(4), 439-458.
7. Utilisation is at the heart of Milton Erickson’s work.
8. Here’s a recent chapter I wrote for a recently released edited book. The practice and the practical: Pushing your clinical effectiveness to the next level. In D. Prescott, C. Maeschalck, & S. D. Miller (Eds.), Reaching for Excellence: Feedback-Informed Treatment in Practice: APA. There a chalk full of diverse chapters in this book.
(Please note that the links in the note section are amazon affliate links. That means I get a tiny percentage of the books’ sales.)