How well do you know your clients? Can you provide support to them without a personal knowledge of them? If no, then how in-depth does this knowledge need to be in order to serve them adequately? And finally, how do you acquire this knowledge? Renowned psychoanalyst and social theorist Erich Fromm in his book The Art of Loving said, “Love is the only way to knowledge.” Fromm further suggests that we have to know the other person and ourselves objectively, in order to be able to see his reality, or rather, to overcome the illusions, the irrationally distorted picture we have of him.
Only if we know a human being objectively, can we know him in his ultimate essence, in the act of love. Neurologist, psychiatrist as well as Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl, concurs with Fromm. In his best-selling book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he said “No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him.”
When we see our clients weekly, monthly or whatever frequency we have established, we probe enough into their lives to create some semblance of a relationship or even friendship. I love and sincerely care about people and have often wondered if this is appropriate especially within a counselor/client relationship. In his book, The Gift of Therapy, Irvin D. Yalom, M.D. shared an email he received from one of his clients: I love you but I also hate you because you leave, not just to Argentina and New York and for all I know, to Tibet and Timbuktu, but because every week you leave, you close the door, you probably just go turn on the baseball game or check the Dow and make a cup of tea whistling a happy tune and don’t think of me at all and why should you?
I believe we need to love our clients in order to know and understand what they are communicating to us verbally and nonverbally. Loving our clients can lead to a deep knowledge (of them) which is critical in offering them support. Frankl suggests that by our love, we enable the beloved person to actualize their potential. We do this by making them aware of what they can be and what they can become. What greater goal is there for us? As counselors, we are already aware, but must keep in mind, that we cannot pretend to be committed or have love towards another. Therefore, this kind of love requires commitment which will be evident in our genuine interest in their well-being.
I have been worshipping at the same church now for over three years which also happens to be the same amount of time my pastor has been at the church. We see each other weekly. He is my spiritual counselor. However, he does not know me or my family and so I was quite dissatisfied with our pastor/member relationship. In the three years I have been his member/spiritual client, he has never visited my home or called to check on my family’s spiritual well-being or otherwise. We were strangers in the same church. He was offering a service to someone he did not know. As a result, our relationship with him was estranged. We felt he did not care about us and our spiritual well-being which led us to believe that he was not committed to the church and its members. If he did, it was never expressed or implied only expected (by us).
Instead of allowing our lack of knowledge to continue leading us into making assumptions, my wife and I requested a meeting with our pastor. In that meeting, we shared our feelings and hopes for our pastor/member relationship. Our pastor acknowledged that relationships and reaching out to his members were areas he needs to work on improving. He thanked us for meeting with him to discuss our concerns and pledged to work harder on improving his relationship with us. True to his commitment, six weeks after our meeting, while in Boston on a medical trip for our son, we received an email from our pastor asking how things were going with our son’s appointments. He also requested that we keep him updated on our trip. I thanked him for his concern and silently acknowledged this big step he has taken.
So is it ok to let our clients know we care or that we love them (recognizing of course, that there are various types of love)? My belief is that if we do, we will come to know just who our clients are and how we can serve them more effectively.
I commend those who already practice this kind of loving. However, there is still hope for the rest of us. We all grow at varying paces but with faith and courage we can experience this higher level of counselor/client relationship. For some of us, it will take weeks or months, and for others even years to develop this approach to love and then put it into practice. At this point, I believe our clients will come to realize and accept that we truly care about them as individuals and not just about solving their problems. With this growth, we will come to love them, then know them and as an added benefit, come to know ourselves more deeply.
Pete Saunders is a counselor in training at Capella University. He also writes a weekly blog and conducts a weekly video interview on manhood at razorsanddiapers.com