Are you entangled in difficult relationships
or painful emotions?
The Road to Hell is Paved With ...
As a person, family or country becomes less
oriented on physical survival, the awareness of the importance of emotional
health, relationships and spirituality becomes stronger. Ever more people are
looking for somebody who could help them in this regard. In time, many people
wish to change from the client's to the helper's role. However, not even in the
framework of formal, university education, is enough attention dedicated to the
relationship between the helper and the client, apart from some general
guidelines, especially in alternative
helping methods. Sometimes that the helper, even when he acts with
the best purpose in mind, harms the client more than he helps him.
As a guideline for people who consider
helping others, as well as for those who already work as
therapists/coaches or plan to do so, I wish to draw your attention to the
complexity and impact of the client-therapist relationship and the importance to
approach it responsibly.
In the world of alternative helping methods, some
people become therapists without training or after short training in a
narrow area, which might be based on dogma and theories rather than on the
openness of mind, experience and maturity. Knowledge without inspiration and
good intentions won't bring much good, but lack of education and knowledge will
cause people to make huge mistakes.
Regardless of a therapist's intentions, the
success of her work will primarily depend on her maturity and
responsibility. This means that the therapist has to heal himself and his life:
manage disturbing emotions, build fulfilling relationships and create life
which fulfils his emotional needs. If a therapist's needs are not fulfilled or
if they are still immature ("false" needs compensating for the healthy ones,
e.g. the need for power can be felt instead of healthy need for love, which the
person feels can't be fulfilled) there is a big risk that he may attempt to
satisfy them through his relationship with clients.
The risk is made bigger by the fact that often a
therapist can fulfill such needs more easily in the relationship
therapist-client than in other relationships. The basis of this relationship is
that a therapist is in a position of authority, and a client trusts him
sufficiently to accept him as authority. In such a relationship it is much
easier to influence and manipulate the other person than in everyday
relationships between people who perceive each other as equal in knowledge and
A Subconscious Dance
Some people choose to be therapists because it gives them
authority, power and status. Such people feel a need to convince themselves
that they are more capable than other people and that they have a right to
influence them. This attitude may not be obvious to their clients.
Sometimes a therapist's wish to make the world
a better place result in attempts to change others without allowing them to
advance at their own pace. This is often a result of an unconscious need to get
rid of her own childish feelings. Just as in love relationships we often choose
partners who are in some ways similar to our parents, to fulfill the unconscious
wish to change or save our parents, in the therapist's role we can project this
savior's attitude to the rest of humanity. Subconsciously, we might hope to make
a difference, deserve love or approval, make things easier for ourselves just as
we hoped in our early family. If other people do not advance at the speed and in
the direction that we wish, this can provoke childish anger and criticism.
Examples of similar behaviors are animal rights or environmental issues activists,
who sometimes try to change other people by violent methods - seeing people as
evil, instead of people conditioned by their education and
insufficiently informed. Such people often identify themselves with what they
are trying to protect, while they project anger toward those who they see as
"culprits". This anger has its origin in their relationship with their parents
or other authorities. Even if the motivation for their actions is positive, if
they act on their childish feelings they are neither able to see the others'
perspective, or to understand that their violent behavior will naturally trigger
a defense reaction instead of agreement.
therapists believe that they have a right to exercise power over other people.
Such people usually create rather rigid, hierarchical organizations around them
with elements of personality cults, and they take a dominant attitude towards
their clients, requesting things from them and prohibiting things to them,
which doesn't help their clients improve their lives, but
helps maintain a power structure. Such requests can be explained by different
moralistic ideas, but it is important that they are not logically and naturally
connected to solving client's problems. For example, requests to
follow ritual procedures and formalities, not to explore different
approaches and not to question the therapist's dogmas.
Modalities of exercising such influence can be
different: from subtle group pressure and non-verbal disapproval to direct
punishment or intimidation. The common result is that the client is slowly lead
into a unequal position and feelings of impotence, dependence, fear, guilt or
inferiority are created within him, instead of him feeling worthy and able to
steer his life and create happiness on his own.
To achieve this, a client must have
complementary emotional problems: lack of self-confidence and self-trust, a
feeling that it's natural not to be treated as equal and respected, and that his
opinion and inner guidance is not taken into consideration. Since some people
grew up in such an atmosphere, it is not difficult to induce them to
accept it once again. Actually, what many people are looking for in a therapist
or coach is authority and decision-making: a substitute for parents. This is
why some clients show less trust to therapists who treat
them as equals and as capable people, than those who want to dominate.
Most people enjoy being
right. A coach or therapist is no exception. However, just like anybody else, a
therapist is limited by her experience and her beliefs. A key mistake
of many approaches is the assumption that the therapist knows the answers, while
the client knows little or nothing about his problem. Answers are more
frequently sought in the rational knowledge or emotional (intuitive) impressions
of the therapist, than in the client's knowledge and his resources and
Not only it is impossible to analyze thoroughly
all, or even most, known ideas and therapeutic approaches, but due to
life obligations, often we have little time to immerse ourselves
deeply even into a relatively narrow scope of interests. Everybody enjoys
certain segments of knowledge, while those that are emotionally less attractive
usually appear less important. Consequently, every therapist will look for
the answers in his area of expertise, and may not want, or not be able to,
think of an entire spectrum of different possibilities.
This is almost unavoidable, but it
can become dangerous with suggestive approaches, or in case of therapists
who prefer to exert their influence and authority over others. Sometimes a
therapist who is expert in a particular issue, or who is excited due to
some recent findings or ideas, leads the client into believing that he has that
very problem. "If your only tool is a hammer, all problems look like
A client who comes for help, often due to grave problems,
may want to believe that somebody
can give her solutions. The client can long for somebody to take over a part of
the burden of decision making, or to offer her new, interesting belief
structures which give hope for a "instant", effortless solution. The client
might long for somebody to whom she can surrender her life and whom she can
idealize, just like the parents. The most difficult life problems naturally
provoke childish feelings, so a person who is seen as an authority at that
moment can easily become a parent substitute to the client.
This is when a client can go through a similar
process as small children who wish to trust their parents to feel safe:
he can be positively surprised and idealize everything that the therapist
guesses correctly or does well, and based on this he creates trust that the
therapist always knows what he does. If the therapist at this point says
something wrong, abstract or difficult to prove, what frequently happens is that
the client starts searching for justifications for such ideas, something like:
"Well, maybe it could be that? I never thought about it before!" If there is
some truth in the therapist's assumptions, even if this is not the full truth or
an important part of it, the client's attention is directed towards that and he
can feel that the therapist recognizes his problems better than himself.
example, if the therapist says that the problem lies in the client's not
forgiving a certain person - and who of us does not bear any grudge against
important people? - the client can be impressed by the insight that some anger
is still within him, but also overlook that this might not be the core
Sexuality and Therapy
If something attracts us emotionally, the mind can think of numerous reasons,
regardless how far-fetched, to convince us that we are acting correctly. This is
also no exception in various aspects of the therapist-client relationship, and
in some cases it can become dangerous.
One such case is sexual intimacy between a therapist
and a client. Male therapists can feel sexual attraction towards their
female clients, while female clients, more often than men, can feel
emotional attraction for the therapist ... as a substitute for a father
or some other important figure. This is when various
justifications may be created.
A common justification is that there is nothing negative in
sexuality, that one should not be ashamed of it and sometimes even that
sexual acts have therapeutic properties. I know a male massage therapist who
believes that a sexual intercourse helps to "release energy" and
that there is nothing wrong with sexual intercourse during a massage,
if a client wishes for it.
Apart from neglecting the emotional
aspects of sexuality, this shows an ignorance of deeper, more sensitive aspects
of a relationship between a therapist and a client, especially of the
transference mechanism and childish feelings in general.
A key issue which defines a good
therapist is understanding and respect for the client's vulnerable position,
more vulnerable than in most other relationships. A
client is not only emotionally open within therapy, but this
openness can often provoke otherwise suppressed feelings, needs and
longings that can be easily projected to the therapist as a source of
support and authority (parents' features).
Client or Child?
In some methods (e.g. traditional psychoanalysis),
a therapist is encouraged
to play a parent substitute to the client. Such methods presume that this will
help clients become aware of and release unresolved feelings towards
their parents. What makes such approaches questionable that,
as a rule, it's not enough to become aware of and express feelings. An external
relationship is not enough to manage such feelings, same as any external
Most infatuations are searches
for substitute parents. If a relationship or external experiences could manage
childish feelings, many people would be able to manage them relatively easily
on their own. However, these relationships are only a substitute, they are not
what the "inner child" is really looking for, and our subconscious knows
that. Besides, focused and deep work on recovering split personality parts and
resolving deep emotional beliefs is often missing in such an approach.
Therapists have all human issues.
Emotions that a client expresses as well as his behavior can trigger the
therapist's conditioned reactions, i.e. unresolved emotions. Just as the client
can subconsciously see his parent or another important figure in the therapist,
the same association and recollection process is spontaneously and unavoidably
taking place in the therapist as well. If she doesn't observe herself and her
feelings carefully, maybe she won't notice conditioned prejudices or attractions
awakening within her.
A therapist may unconsciously
see a client not only as a person from his past, but as a child, or
he can see his own unresolved problems in the client's. It is a great temptation
for the therapist not to impose himself as an authority in the client's life, or
to believe that he knows better than the client what the problem is and how to
solve it. Such therapists may feel offended or belittle their clients if their
advice is not accepted. Some clients welcome advice and instructions - someone
who will take responsibility for their lives and tell them what to do -
but then, instead of listening to their own inner truth, they start listening to
a person who actually knows little about them and their lives.
Intuition or Ego-trip?
Many therapists like to think that they know much
more than they do. Especially in the area of intuitive diagnostics as well as
predictions (an area most prone to abuse), rare helper will consider
the possibility of his mistake, or even make an effort to carefully choose his
words. I remember several encounters when I was given, often unsolicited,
diagnoses of my physical health, and each was completely different. None
of them corresponded to my own feelings and experience.
The majority of those "diagnoses" were made quickly,
expressed by strong words, without paying real
attention. As a rule, these guesses were made on the basis of very uncertain
physical indicators such as pulse or aching body parts during a massage.
Sometimes they were based on a single glance. I
felt that those people were trying to achieve a sense of power, trying to make
an impression that they know things about others that others either don't know,
or don't want to be known.
Even if such predictions are not reliable, some clients trust
them most. It seems that, the fewer the proofs that a person can submit, the
more the client feels free to believe that the other possesses some special
power. We may all need a little bit of magic
in our lives, but not if it harms us.
I've met many people who have been told by some
negligent astrologists or fortune-tellers things like: "You can't be helped" or
"You'll never find a partner", leaving people in the state of fear, shock
and without hope. Having spoken with some people about this, I realized that
one thing was common in almost all the cases: the client received quite a good
intuitive analysis of her past and present, which invoked trust. However,
the predictions turned out to be of poor quality or completely wrong.
Apart from the future not being determined, or at
least not definitely, each person who makes such forecasts gives to his
impressions the stamp of his own personality and experience. Since they very
often neglect the importance of working with their own emotions, their
predictions will be colored with their own view of the world and their
unresolved emotions. If you are looking for a person who could tell you
something about your future, chose the one who seems happy, balanced and who has
a positive attitude to life.
Resistance and Responsibility
Many health professionals pay little attention to
resolving emotions, choosing rather to ignore, control or manipulate them. Often
a client is told to "simply forgive" or in a similar way to
"get rid of" his
emotions very fast, maybe by their symbolical burning, sending to the universe
or to spiritual beings. Since the message and lesson from these emotions is not
received, the important relationships are left unresolved and the split
personality parts are not found and integrated, this cannot yield long lasting
results. The client often attempts to believe that he has solved his
problem, trying to suppress and neglect these parts of himself even more. If at
the end he still admits that he cannot manage, a therapist often calls this
A "resistant client" is a common
therapist's excuse to avoid being questioned on their competence. Therapists who tend to
moralize or belittle certain emotions can provoke in the client a feeling of not
being understood and accepted, or maybe an unconscious discomfort and confusion
as he feels that something is lacking. In such situations therapists are often
too fast in labeling such feelings as resistance.
Real resistance tends to be unconscious and
subtle. It is often an attempt to protect oneself from pain and mitigate the
speed and intensity of a change, if the change could threaten the emotional
balance or important relationships (if the client feels that her family or
friends could react negatively to her changing). Resistance is often shown
through feelings or behavior modes that hide some other feelings that are
difficult to accept (e.g. anger instead of guilt or shame, rationalization,
blaming and similar). The therapist can have a subtle impression that the client
does not express everything he feels. Often the clients nonverbal communication
is incongruent. In such situations it's important that the therapist can be
clear within her own mind and able to separate her own negative emotions from
what she feels is going on within the client.
I often hear of alternative therapists who are
so unaware and unprepared to take responsibility that they, not only during the
therapy but also during any other everyday activity, attribute their
unpleasant feelings to some "negative energy" that they took from clients
during sessions. Moreover, they might teach such an approach to students.
The therapist presents herself as an especially advanced person, and she shows
her "taking over" of client's problems as a token of her compassion.
Such stories about a client's "negative energy"
sticking onto the therapist are a bogey for students. Therapists love to make
self-display by using such stories to show their strength and righteousness, and partly also to play a
victim role. Then they make theatre of energetic cleaning of themselves and
the room, with stories about taking on their clients' symptoms and emotions,
about clients as "energy vampires" and so on.
Such stories are blown out of
proportion. Therapists - through such stories - deny their power and free will
to avoid taking responsibility for their feelings. According to my experience,
the only thing that the therapist can "gather" from the client is emerging of
the feelings that he already has inside. The less healthy the therapist, the
more he suppresses and denies his own split-off parts, the more likely that a
client's negative emotions will trigger his own. The more balanced, integrated
and healthy a therapist, the less it is possible for him to feel concerned
by anything coming from a client.
Coaching & Counseling with Kosjenka
© Kosjenka Muk, 2009-2018
Translated by Dijana Zorić