One of the reasons I love my clinical work, is that I continue to learn every day, no matter how much experience I gain. There are always clients that teach me something new. Not just because a new client may push me to learn new treatments tools, but also because working with clients I constantly learn new things about our experience as human beings. Here are some of the things that I discovered:
1) Happiness can look very different for different people. Working with clients, I soon learnt that each of us has a different view of what feeling fulfilled means. For some, it may be having a job they are passionate about, for others having a good amount of free time in their life to explore their interests or being involved in family life. It is not my place to decide what is best for my clients. I help them figure out what their deep needs are, and how to address them.
2) Although people may want very different things from life, and have extremely different values, deeply inside we all look for a sense of acceptance and belonging. Most of my clients, whether they are 3-years-old or 60 years-old, communicate in therapy their longing for belonging and feeling accepted by others. Helping my clients getting at the root of these feelings and improving the quality of their relationships is an important part of my work, regardless of my clients’ specific concerns.
3) People are more resilient than we think and find the strength to deal with their challenges. In therapy I find that part of my job is to keep up hope for my clients that change is possible. Once clients start working with someone that offers them new perspectives and tools to cope with their pain, they are able to start the change they want. Often I meet clients whose life has been full of challenges, and at first one may think that there are just too many problems for these clients to be able to feel better. But over and over, I see that even a small change can be a new beginning. For one client it could mean starting to communicate in a different way with her partner, for others it may be gaining new insights on the reasons behind their stress. For some parents, it may be finding 5 minutes to share a pleasurable activity with their child. Once clients have the motivation to look inside themselves, the process of change is activated and I consider myself very fortunate to be able to facilitate that process.
4) If you know the past of a person, you will be in awe of how well they are functioning. Sometimes when we think about other people’s choices, we may have strong judgments on their life. However, once we know their past and their struggles, it is surprising how well people can still function despite their challenges. Most children who grew up with abusive parents and people who went through intense trauma are still able to wake up every morning and continue coping with their pain. Are their choices always healthy? Of course not. Sometimes they make poor choices, put they are doing their best wit the physical and emotional resources they have. In therapy I meet many of these clients, and I am constantly reminded of how strong people can be.
5) Progress is not linear. When we think about working in therapy on our issues, we may imagine progress as gradual and linear path towards improvement. In reality, progress is more similar to an upward spiral, where there are improvements and setbacks. Little by little, the setbacks become less frequent and more manageable, and clients start feeling better.
6) Accepting ourselves is the first step to improve our life. In my work, I always strive to help my clients develop self-acceptance and compassion for their struggles. Being a therapist, I learnt that the way we see ourselves greatly impact our ability to be present for others. If our standards for ourselves are too strict, we cannot deeply accept others. We have to make peace with our flaws, to be able to nurture our own and others’ emotional needs.