What is the meaning of connecting to your client?
Neeraj was coming back to see me after a gap of 5 years. When the appointment was fixed, I could not recall him by his name. When he arrived and sat across me, his entire narrative just came flooding back. Neeraj was so moved that he broke down.
It struck me that he was drawn to the therapeutic relationship instantly when I shared his narrative. He felt he had been listened to. He felt recognised. Even after 5 years, he felt tha at he could expose his psychological vulnerabilities within a few minutes
I was curious – "What does it mean to make contact with your client?"
My understanding – I have in my mind an imago which is a mental picture of my client. This imago could be an image, a metaphor, a song, a tune or a cliché. When Neeraj sat across me, his imago instantly sprung up, immediately connecting to his narrative that he had shared 5 years ago.
I recognise that therapeutic contact with my client has been built when I sense a flow, when they disrobe themselves psychologically and expose their inner vulnerabilities and engage with further curiosity.
Therapeutic contact is built in the counselling space within an hour when I am present. Presence to me is the whole self – the social self, the psychological self, the existential self and the spiritual self. The transactions are verbal and non verbal. Presence is authentic.
To be authentic is an ability to be open and real, to myself about myself.
When I am authentic to myself about myself, I am much more aware of interplay offeelings that’s going on within my own body. I let my feelings come into the session, knowing that this is mine and it is here. I don’t block myself from feeling.
There’s an awareness of me and my feelings and there’s an awareness of the feelings of my client. In this interplay of exchange of feelings between us, my awareness enables me to differentiate between what’s mine and what is the client’s.
Till a few years ago my focus in the role of a counsellor was to build expertise in the techniques of counselling. Today, I just present myself as I am. This, I believe, comes from a sense of acceptance of self, ensuring that the client does not experience any blocks, boundaries or effort from my end, thus enabling the sessions to be seamless.
When I am not authentic, I am not accounting for the client’s ability to sense and account, creating a stance of hierarchy.
BRINGING YOUR WHOLE SELF INTO THE SPACE
Therapeutic relationship is far more complex than the technique of empathy. It is about the therapist bringing their whole self into counselling space.
In each session, when offering my whole self, even if the client has an inability to offer their whole self, it promotes them to offer more of themselves when they experience me offering my whole self. In the process, the client slowly begins to unfold themselves.
To me, whole self in an Indian context is:
- Social self
- Psychological self
- Existential self
- Spiritual self
Spiritual self is inherent in an Asian culture and gives a very potent message of hope to the client.
Professional expertise in counselling profession is a journey that takes time and focus. It happens in stages.
Stage 1 – Empathy through learnt technique
Stage 2 – Empathy and facilitating problem solving through learnt technique
Stage 3 – Empathy, problem solving and building a profession and identity
Stage 4 – Coming into my own and being myself
Throughout these stages, the constant enabling factor has been personal work.
Once I reached stage 4, counselling transitioned from being a science to an art. This is when all the techniques and frameworks are internalised, it’s seamless and becomes an art when I bring in my unique flavours and experiences. This is a profession that needs a lot of time and energy to build. It does not just happen.
HOW DOES THIS PLAY OUT IN THE COUNSELLING SPACE?
In a therapeutic space, there is an exchange of transactions that take place at both an overt and covert level. At overt level, it is the social self that is engaged in the transactions. At a covert level, exchange of transactions is from existential, psychological and spiritual self. And that is what gives the validation and forms the contact. It is a very potent communication of hope.
It’s important to be aware that while we take in the frameworks and knowledge from the western world, we do not block our spiritual self. Spiritual self is about trust at an implicit level.
So that’s what it is – putting together all the techniques and knowledge, being authentic, bringing your whole self, including your spiritual self, being committed to personal work, and then to let it evolve.
This can come only from personal work.