“You don’t have kids.” “How long have you been married?” “What do you know, you get paid to talk to people all day.” All these statements are different ways of our clients telling us “You don’t understand my feelings.” We don’t, and we do. I am a young counselor. I don’t have kids, and so I have gotten a defensive remark or two that suggests “what do YOU know?” Thank goodness I’m married, or I probably would have gotten flak for that too. As a result of my current childless state, it can be more than a little intimidating when the mother of a teenager crosses her arms in front of me and scowls at my huge dearth of parental knowledge.
I responded incorrectly the first few times something like this would happen. “I promise, I’ve had the training!” (Who am I trying to convince, her or me?) “But I was a nanny while I was getting my degree!” (In most cases, this not the same as being a mother.) The problem was that I kept responding defensively. I was ashamed of my lack of credentials and worried I would be found as a fraud.
But then I thought about it. I did know what I was doing, but I wasn’t convincing anyone of that by what I was saying. And really, that wasn’t the problem. People asking these kinds of questions aren’t looking for someone who has necessarily had the exact same experience as they have. They’re looking for someone who gets what they’re going through.
That’s where the idea of method therapy comes in. Method actors, from what I understand, use past personal experiences to fuel a scene in which similar emotions are required of them. The emotions are what need to be the same, not the exact situation.
We’ve all been sad, hurt, angry, frustrated, betrayed, abandoned, neglected, fearful, sensitive, confused, determined, judgmental, jealous, worried, restless, pessimistic and annoyed, among many other things. Reading over these words has probably just now brought to mind a strong emotional event. You can use this when your situations have been different.
“I may not have a runaway teen.” I could say. “But I’ve been afraid for my family. I’ve been worried about the choices others will make. I know that you’re probably having trouble sleeping at night, and that it’s hard to focus on the other things in your life. I’m betting sometimes you may be angry with your daughter when you’re really wanting her to get how much she means to you.”
Method therapy: credibility, when you need it most.
Stephanie Ann Adams is a counselor who believes in the ability of the mind to understand and change behaviors, and in each person’s power to create the life they want. Her blog can be found at www.sassynsane.blogspot.com.