Recently I wrote a post about the often used question in therapy– “How do you feel about that?” and the experience of wanting to empower the client by validating their feelings.
A reader of Collective Inquiry, j;, graciously posted a response and gave an insightful perspective on what it means to be asked as a theoretically client, “How do you feel about that?” :
I would like to comment on one aspect that is important to the client, that we, the client, already suspect: we already know the answer. Our brain functioning is far more complex and nuanced than we consciously know. And appropriately, it is understanding of ourselves, our desires, and our relations with the external world. And so, even though we may not admit it to ourselves or, even more gravely, may not even realize it at all, we already intimate the best course of action or best attitude to adopt to deal with a certain emotion/challenge or best way to adapt to our current environment. In short, truly, we already secretly, subconsciously (at least) know what our therapist will help us realize.
Here, j; touches on two points that align closely with my therapeutic outlook:People are doing the best they can with what they have, and clients are already equipped with strengths and knowledge of themselves that are sometimes hidden. With these things in mind, I work under the assumption that the manner in which people cope with emotions and challenges is a result of years upon years of adapting and adjusting to the world around them (and thus a solution that may work for me may not work for them).
The issue that presents itself is that the coping mechanisms used can start to become more of a hindrance then a protection. I came to this conclusion from a startling personal revelation. For most of my life, I became accustomed to putting on a smile and an act of being “okay” when I was not. This served two purposes– I not only wanted to convince others that I was okay to not come off as weak or unhappy, but I also found it necessary to persuade myself that I was fine in order to have stability during difficult times. It was functional for many years until I realized (with the help of my peers and supervisor) that I continued to hide my emotions even when I safe to reveal them. This leads to the second part of the response:
This is why it can be so important to have a therapist. Often times we also subconsciously hide these answers from ourselves, on behalf of whatever personal desire or perceived cultural norm. Sometimes we need to come to understand–whether by ourselves or with the help of others–that certain emotions and desires are completely okay and are even common. We need a therapist, often enough, not just to understand that these desires or feelings are okay, but to discover them in the first place. We often hide our subconscious resolutions so well that we need someone to repeatedly, tirelessly, ask “how do you feel about that” so that we will discover we have already secretly figured out our answers in the first place. They help us learn how to be honest with ourselves.
This expands the idea that the client already has the answer, but also reflects the very real possibility that that answer can be carefully hidden under layers of coping mechanisms and fears. All it takes is one person, experience, or sentence in a book to unravel the image you fought so hard to create and believe in– and reveal the answer you already had within. This experience can be great if you are ready for it and intimidating if you are not.
For me, it was when my mentor revealed his sincere hope that my inner brightness would one day be as strong as my outer brightness. I felt exposed, understood, moved, and liberated all at the same time. Without offering any more explanation to that statement, he allowed me to interpret it in the way that was most meaningful to me. Until that moment, I did not fully recognize the impact and weight of hiding behind a smile. My mentor helped me be honest with myself. For this, I am eternally grateful.
So thank you, reader, for reminding me and others not just the importance of discovering the answer we already know, but that it is also okay to need a little help along the way.