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  • Writer's pictureFiona Holiday

The Other Side: From Client to Therapist

We hold many identities in life. Some because of our relationships (like child or parent), some because of the roles we take on socially (like joker or peacemaker) and still others because of our work. What constitutes our whole self can be a complex kaleidoscope of many viewpoints.

How to be a client in the therapeutic relationship has been an identity I have explored over the years and this has, almost certainly, made the therapist identity a possibility for me.

As a client, I started out with an expectation that I was going to be 'done to'. Somehow, this interaction was going to fix what was wrong with me and I would walk away. Over time, this changed: I became a client who began to understand the mutual impact of the therapeutic relationship. My expectations changed from being fixed to being seen; from being explained to being understood. The power of connection to transform the relationship we have with ourselves was evident.

My experience of therapy led to the addition of a new professional thread to my identity cloak. As a therapist, I now become the watcher, the mirror, the container. I am alert to the unspoken and unconscious expectations that may be placed upon me. I am aware of the potential of the space.

If I were to ask my therapist self what some of the most important lessons being a client has taught you, it would be these:

  • A client will probably have few way markers to help them navigate this relationship, other than their previous experience and imaginings. It will probably help if you can be as clear as possible about what the space is for, what is ok and how you will communicate when something is not. Working with children, this is particularly important as it is unlikely that they will have the media/social constructs of therapy to draw on.

  • Your client will potentially notice apparently minute changes in the space, your demeanour or physical appearance. There is the possibility that this shift will prompt the most unexpected of responses. Consistency is important, as is the way that unavoidable inconsistencies are handled.

  • Be open to the idea that you take up a lot of space in your client's life. Your presence and interest is significant. As is your absence, so manage your breaks with this in mind.

  • Perhaps the most important thing? You will get it wrong, you will make an assumption, trigger a response, forget something you have been told. The opportunity to repair and rebuild trust as a result will potentially be the most helpful aspect of being in this relationship. Embrace it.

I often need to revisit this list - particularly the last point. As a client, I knew I was far from perfect but it was a shock when I realised my therapist wasn't perfection personified.

Connection and disconnection are both vital in relationship, whichever side we are on.

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