Can We Practice Truly Seeing Our Clients
“Don’t talk to me like I’m baby!” Ooof! I don’t know about you, but I have heard this before in the therapy room from both adult and child clients during I time was attempting to be highly nurturing. A client shares a deep wound, and my response might be, “Wow. My heart is heavy for you. That must have felt so lonely,” and then a statement like, “Don’t talk to me like I’m baby!” is the response from the client.
Lisa Dion, the creator of Synergetic Play Therapy might ask, “What’s the set up here?” I’ll briefly define “the set up,” but to really understand it be sure to take a listen to her podcast, Lessons From the Playroom. The set up essentially helps us not take things personal. We all set each other up to feel how we are feeling. When we ask, “What’s the set up?” we are asking how is this person setting me up to feel right now? With the above example I might feel like I did something wrong, or I’m a bad therapist. When I can reflect on what’s happening for me I can then shuttle over to the client and hold they may be feeling like they did something wrong or they are a bad person.
Jonathan Baylin and Daniel Hughes have written an awesome book, “The Neurobiology of Attachment-Focused Therapy,” and discuss a concept called, “Blocked Trust.” In their book Baylin and Huhes (2016) note blocked trust is a strategy developed in early childhood to survive very poor care. Children build this strategy by suppressing emotions that normally support social engagement and attachment. If you’ve had an experience like the one I described above you know how hard it can be to respond with even more compassion and care, and truly that is what is needed in that moment. These folx need something called a disconfirming experience. If it’s hard for us therapists think about how hard it was for their own caregivers or their partners to respond with care and compassion. It makes sense to respond to this situation with defensiveness (or blocked care) but embracing the entire person…all their parts is indeed the biggest contributor to supporting the client in recovering from blocked trust.
The next time you encounter a response like this, take a breath, and hold that this person has just given you so much information about their attachment system, the environment they grew up in, how deeply they are wounded, and how more than anything else they just want to be truly seen.
*Stay tuned for a podcast episode coming soon as Abby and I talk further about this topic!