Tapping into Therapeutic Creativity

Many times, we as therapists can feel “stuck” in the process of doing therapy, either with a particular client or more generally with a certain population. It may be an adolescent not wanting to be in therapy, a very depressed older individual or a couple so entrenched in a non-stop pattern of arguing you feel a need for a megaphone just to interject some redirection.

In most, if not all, of these cases we need some moments of calm and self-clarity to be sure, but it might also be helpful to “think outside of the box” as well. Try introducing creative interventions such as art (music, visual arts, poetry or prose).

We could certainly draw from our own experiences by offering stories, metaphors or pieces of music, but I have found it to be much more profound when tapping into the creativity of the clients themselves. Their own storytelling, poetry, artwork, music, etc. can be much more compelling, meaningful and healing if they are left untouched in a respectful manner. That is, we don’t interpret or judge in any way, but instead encourage growth by allowing clients’ creative outlets to portray whatever meaning and purpose they are attempting to express.

Respect needs to come from a place of authenticity and symmetrical balance to have any true validity.

A word of caution: those of us who are not specifically trained or certified in expressive art therapies should use these modalities carefully and only adjunctively to the work we are trained in. However, creativity in all its wonderful forms, used with care, can be transformative in moving the therapeutic process forward.

RFT Book Cover

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.

Preparing for Difficult Clients

Working with clients productively isn’t always an easy road. Clinicians frequently run into clients who are challenging, frustrating, maddening or otherwise pushing our emotional buttons in some fashion.

For example, there are clients who have their own anger issues and come in ready to pick a fight. They simply want to argue with us, and question our knowledge or expertise. There are clients who are passive-aggressive, are in denial of their addictions or simply don’t engage in therapy the way we would like in order to make the progress we wish for them. Then there are clients we just don’t like for some reason; they don’t share our values and don’t respect our time or our boundaries.

Often, the rule of wisdom is to refer such clients out so that they can find a better fit and get better care. But before you do that, I have a few suggestions for preparing yourself for your next session.

To begin with, check yourself. How are you feeling? Tired? Anxious? Hungry? Already dreading this appointment or preoccupied with something you’d rather be doing? What buttons are being pushed inside of you by this client? Spend some time slowing down and acknowledging your feelings. Breathe and try divesting yourself from feeling graded (even pass-fail) on the outcome of this session. This is your client’s session, not yours.

Respect needs to come from a place of authenticity and symmetrical balance to have any true validity. copy

Then spend some time thinking about where your client is emotionally and cognitively. As I frequently say to interns, try going behind the curtain of the stage your client occupies to see the stagehands at work. What’s going on behind the behavior or attitudes you’re seeing and experiencing? Behind the anger is there fear or doubt? Behind the bluster is there insecurity or sadness? Is there a traumatized child puppeteer behind the puppet you see?

As you go into your session, attempt to drop all negative pre-conceptions, judgments and expectations into the trash can. Work with the person in front of you who is scared, sad, lonely or vulnerable from a place of authentic respect.

 

RFT Book Cover

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.

Mistakes, Regrets and Self-Forgiveness

We all make decisions we later regret. For many of us, this happens much more frequently than we like to admit. Our culture supports, defends, even molds this denial of imperfection through media, advertising, etc. leaving us with the concept that idealistic perfection exists, and we can all have it if we all look just like the emaciated models, buy the right car, have the right job and friends, live in the right neighborhood.  Most of us know that this is myth and marketing deception, but we get ourselves wrapped up in it to some degree anyway.

It is, in my opinion, when we can let loose our tight grip and angst for perfection, when we can start admitting our mistakes to ourselves and others, that we can then have the freedom to make better choices. Not only can we learn from our mistakes, we can clear out the emotional space to be more able to make more rational choices.

Notably, some mistakes are more devastating than others. Some can result in real trauma or loss, which can lead one into a lifetime or shame and self-degradation. Aiding our clients in clearing out shame, guilt and overburdened regret is essential in order for them to have the potential for self-forgiveness, acceptance and confident humility.

This process of self-forgiveness, an integral piece of RFT, is truly acknowledging wrongdoings done with grace, letting go self-imposed penalties, self-regret, hatred or other forms of disregard.  It is also about being able and willing to make amends and correcting hurtful behavior where and when possible in context of relating to others. (Halling, 2006)

Respect needs to come from a place of authenticity and symmetrical balance to have any true validity. (3)

Forgiveness gives credence to positive possibility in our lives and opens the door to making better choices. Help clients learn to embrace mistakes and learn to use them wisely in the future. Short of mistakes, there will be many hard decisions, not necessarily labeled good or bad, which, unfortunately, involve sacrifice, pain and/or loss.  But so is there much greater chance for real, sustainable and substantive joy and peace when we are willing to believe in ourselves enough to take risks, that are not completely calculated, but also based on our faith, sense of values, a daring expectation for good to come from it and, always, the willingness to attach responsible action behind it.

RFT Book Cover

 

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.

Five Basic Principles of Respect

Respect is a concept that we often take for granted, but seldom reflect on.  However, we often feel the effects of a lack of respect: on the road, at work, or even in our own homes.  Generationally, we often note that children seem to be generally less respectful, especially with the increase of school violence, gang activity, and bullying.

It is therefore valuable to look at the issue of what respect really is and how we can better implement it in our lives.  I have outlined five basic principles which—I think—start to define and describe the fuller meaning of this word.

  1. Respect is the “I-Thou” relationship, love in its highest, purest, most effective form.
  2. Respect is not fear-based, cannot be demanded, but is freely given, based in positive regard.
  3. Respect is a combination of action, attitude, and an open-minded perception of the world, seeing the best in others rather than the worst.
  4. Respect is the active ingredient at the center of an individual’s dignity, integrity, and spirituality.
  5. Respect is a basic, pivotal component in the determination between functional and non-functional social system.

The first principle speaks to the quality of relationship, mentioning Buber’s “I-Thou” conceptualization of the ideal moments in relating. It is in the most present and selfless awareness of another that we are able to experience love in its truest form.

The second principle is necessary for the first to exist. Fear is really the antithesis of respect and disallows respect to be authentic. To demand respect is to destroy it. Symmetry and mutuality replace hierarchy in instances of true respect.

The third suggests that respect is multi-dimensional, combining open-minded perception with proactive behavior seeking positive interactive outcomes universally.  It is not stagnant, but fluid, constantly evolving throughout our lifetimes.

Respect needs to come from a place of authenticity and symmetrical balance to have any true validity. (1)

Respect validates who we are at the core. The fourth principle suggests that respect is at the center of one’s dignity, integrity, and spirituality. To respect oneself is to pursue, develop and energize those inner values we hold precious. “Love one another as you love yourself,” implies that self-respect is a prerequisite to respecting others.  Genuine self-respect, then, is a primary building block in the ability to have healthy, respectful relationships in all facets of our lives.

Finally, the last principle points out that respect cannot be just an individual activity, but to sustain and grow it must be inherent in the larger systems of our lives, family social networks, community, nationally and internationally. Universal respect and social justice require ongoing awareness and intention from all of us collectively.

RFT Book Cover

 

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.

 

 

 

What Respect Really Means

For many of our clients, there is little experiential connection with the concept of respect, because it feels contrived, obligatory or simply nonexistent—often from childhood. Predominantly, they don’t feel privy to getting any of its benefits, as it seems only to be for others, primarily “elders” or those in authority positions. Far too often the lack of genuinely feeling respected, honored by others authentically, can lead to lifetimes of never respecting oneself and therefore not having the grounding to be able to adequately respect others.

Our job as therapists, then, is to help clients realize that respect—in its truest form—is not contrived and is not hierarchical. In fact, to be genuine and grounded it needs to be mutual, shared symmetrically. To have high esteem for someone and that is unreturned by that person, it becomes at some point, meaningless for both. For example, if a child adores his father who is admissive or abusive towards his child, the adoration becomes unfulfilling and may, in fact, turn into resentment or despair. Respect needs to come from a place of authenticity and symmetrical balance to have any true validity.

Respect needs to come from a place of authenticity and symmetrical balance to have any true validity.

Respect is more than a noun; it is also a verb. It is action. The Latin origin of the word is ‘respectare,’ which means to look back or look again. To reconsider. The realization that respect cannot be demanded or coerced in any meaningful way opens the possibility to a surprising new awareness of another person we thought we knew well, but upon intentional reconsideration, we find something wonderful we may have never noticed before.

Challenge your clients to take the next opportunity to “look again” at the person they most take for granted or get annoyed by, themselves first, or maybe a spouse or family member, a neighbor or coworker, and try assisting them to look through a lens of respect that can filter out the negatives enough to find one new positive perspective they may not have seen in the same way before. This may take some practice, but the more chances we take on this new path of interpersonal discovery, the more we may be delightfully surprised.

RFT Book Cover

 

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.