Fellow fans of Red Green and the Possum Lodge will recognize this as the Man’s Prayer; that oft cited motto of the fictitious lodge that we have watched for years on PBS that was developed by Steve Smith and became available through the magic of television. Though no longer made, he still tours in a one man show because as he said “retirement stinks.” Reruns still grace our screens and we can buy boxed sets on his website. I think you may even be able to get “Red Green” limited edition duct tape should you so desire. Though let’s face it, duct tape is best when it is found.
Ok, this is not a blog dedicated to a show from years ago, though if it was, I would read it because the man and the show are fascinating. Instead this is about dealing with resistance in counseling, that is to say, what do we do when we find ourselves wanting change more than our clients? I have seen many responses. I have seen counselors become burned out and jaded, counselors who were understanding of the process and counselors who have confused clinical confrontation with the types of confrontations that I have been told can be found on daytime television. Only a few of these has within it a chance of being effective, the others serve no purpose other than perhaps opening a session time on your schedule or giving the clinician an ulcer.
The question of speed in therapy is one that is not properly answered for the most part by the clinician in any way other than “on the clients.” Sure we as clinicians may see what the client needs to work on from the beginning of the first session and it would be great and is great when our clients come into the clinical experience all fired up, focused and ready to conquer their issues, but like it or not, many times our clients know that they are unsatisfied with life but unclear what is not working or what they are willing to do to improve it.
Motivated clients often complete out of session work with a passion, many times they may even seek out extra work, be it Bibliotherapy, self help groups, personal reflection or what have you. Unmotivated clients are often slow to complete such work, unwilling to go beneath the surface or perhaps they are actually motivated but feel stuck or rudderless. It’s hard to march forward when you cannot see the road. An obstructed view can keep even the most dedicated person sitting idle. The counseling experience seeks to clear obstructions.
Sitting here in New England just days after Mother Nature showed us who is in charge: how often do you get both a tropical (super) storm and a Nor’easter within a few days of one another? Inches of snow and 70 degree weather, calm skies and damaging winds all within hours? This can be the life of our clients; at times moving ahead is best defined as an absence of moving behind for any great length of time. Still, we want our clients to get better quickly, to no longer need us and to move on to happier lives. Let’s face it; we do not have a shortage of folks who need our help so the faster they are better, the better we are able to help others. But again, we are not fast food restaurants, we have no cookie cutter approach to good mental health (I hope), and realize that like a fine meal, good therapy takes time; some need to marinate longer than others.
Years ago I had a client who was referred to me by a clinician who had given up. I was told that if I kept that client out of jail and out of a lifetime confinement in an institution then I would be doing great. The client came to session at times after obviously sleeping outside the night before, hygiene was foreign to them but they seemed nice enough. When they showed up they engaged for the most part but they never followed through with anything. They tended to show up late, skip a session without calling out and never returned calls. After speaking to them about their behavior they made no real excuses but stated that they did not know if they were ready for counseling; they just didn’t know what they wanted from life. They left therapy and I thought I had seen the last of them. A great deal of time passed when I received a call asking if they could come back. I asked them if they thought they were ready, if they would come as scheduled and if they had to miss that they agreed to cal out and return any calls that I made to them. They agreed. The second round of therapy worked wonders. They grew rapidly and sustained their success with little more than the average temporary setbacks that are to be expected. They never made it to jail or an institution but they were able to turn their life around, hold a job for the first time and reported a great degree of happiness. Last I heard they had been at the same job for years and had worked their way up the ranks by earning many promotions!
When it comes to therapy sometimes the clinician needs a prayer of their own. I’m a clinician, my clients can change and I can wait. If I have to. I guess.
Keep your stick on the ice…
Warren Corson III (Doc Warren) is a counselor and the clinical & executive director of a community counseling agency in central CT (www.docwarren.org).