photo credit: Letterboxd
Have you ever just wanted your clients to change immediately? Week after week, discouraged, frustrated, bored. Even just desperate for your clients to get their “aha” moment over with so they could finally get to living the amazing life they were created for… How many more sessions will this take!!??
I’m so guilty and insensitive. This is why we need supervision.
Shifting gears to super heroes here… have you ever noticed the Marvel model of film production? Unless you’re a die-hard fan (or super awesome friend who goes along to every single movie that’s been released, huge shout-out to my wife!), it feels like there’s just too many to see! Getting to the final picture takes handfuls of movies and entire franchises. Decades. Avengers Infinity War is a great example.
So why does this matter and how would I apply this to my therapy practice? With my clients?
Movement toward the goal is slow. It’s patient. Love is patient.
It’s willing to go through years of development. It doesn’t rush. It doesn’t need to. It’s ok with side stories. In fact, the arc of the grand story depends on those side stories. Think about your clients for a moment, what does this mean for them?
Do they feel you rushing them to become what you want them to be?
Do they rush you to get them to where they want to be?
What have you been missing? What have they been missing?
Got it. So what? What are we supposed to do with that? How do we make sense of it and allow space for it in our clinical relationships? I think we can learn from it. Here are 5 questions that have changed the way I sit with clients when I feel the urge to rush:
1) Does it say more about me than my client? I’ll confess, I’m totally guilty. I sometimes wish I could skip forward 15 seconds or weeks or years and Flash my clients out of the mess they’re in (yes, using his name as a verb). What is it right now that makes me feel like this is going too slow? Interpersonal process aside, what do I want from this? Where has it become about me instead of my client?
2) Who do I think I am? I forget too quickly that there isn’t necessarily this “me and my client” distinction in the therapy space. It’s “we.” We’re both growing, and learning, and making mistakes, and moving from-to. From blindness to sight. From fear to boldness. From hopelessness to hope. “I don’t have all the answers. And I’m in this with you. Let’s figure this out together.”
3) Why wait? As the Marvel producer, you learn to wait. Of course you don’t stagnate or linger too long. But you also don’t skip ahead to the finale. The culmination of characters in action is powerful because of what preceded it. It depends on all the little details, the trilogies, the dialogue, the Easter eggs, the unexpected twists, story development, discussions and forums and fan feedback. Info disclosed to the audience allows the audience to view the finale with an informed lens. There’s anticipation. Connection. Empathy. Self-reflection. Confrontation. Re-evaluation. We choose sides. We change sides. We make mistakes. We’re reborn. This all takes time. Irvin Yalom might call it grist for the mill. We can’t fly to the moon without the rocket fuel. What happens in here today is the fuel for what happens next, in here and out there tomorrow. For your clients, the first week or month or year(s) of sessions with you might be the rocket fuel they’ve needed their entire lives. Today sets the stage for tomorrow. Don’t worry too much about the finale.
4) Where are we headed? What is a finale? It’s the “last part.” Sometimes the finale happens because of the beginning and middle. But sometimes the beginning and middle happens because of what we want the finale to be (aka the future causes the present). This is what tempts us to rush our clients. They tell us their goals for the future and we go for it, sign the treatment plan hot off the press, cut the brake line and hit the gas with g-force momentum, drafting all our interventions toward those specific goals with laser light focus (or am I the only one? Is it just me who does this?). What if therapy was more than that? What if it’s not always about the last part? The super-hero universe speaks to real life because, like its characters, we’re constantly serving a grand existential story. Marvel seems to thrive on the fact that stories can always go deeper and wider. Avengers Infinity War again is a great example of that. Even after the reveal of the huge discovery and climax, we see there literally seems to be no end, we’re left with unanswered questions and a yearning to go further. We almost demand to keep going. There’s still more to the story, past, present, and future. You and me, and the folks we serve, our stories can often go further, not just for fun, but for our client’s sake and their contribution to the world.
5) Who’s it for? I keep the Marvel model in mind when I feel my own struggle at a particular place in a client’s story. Yes, tension moves the plot forward and we do want to help our clients get there. But patience brings clarity, about and for our clients. Who are they? What do they want? What have they sacrificed to get here? What will they sacrifice to get there? What’s at stake? Helping clients discover and share more of their story allows life to be experienced in high definition. Practice. Illumination. Revelation. Sunshine vs. candle light. Empathy vs. isolation. Modeling vs. lecture. When they do arrive at their next life milestone, this is all a gift not just for our clients, but also for everyone else in their universe. And not just finally, but progressively, others get to witness and taste the depth and power and beauty that exists inside this person sitting across from you in your therapy session. Imagine what those new kinds of interactions with others would do for your client, and for those interacting with them! What irreversible process of compound growth and feedback would be set in motion? Our patience will reach everyone involved in the story.
1. Does it say more about me than my client? Is this discouragement and frustration about you or them?
2. Who do I think I am? You and your client are both learning. Stay with that.
3. Why wait? Trust the process. Rebirth, victory, transformation, redemption, this all takes time. Let them have it.
4. Where are we headed? It’s not always about the last part, people are more than a treatment plan. It’s sometimes about who they’re becoming in the process, and about them becoming more than they ever thought they could be.
5. Who’s it for? Your client is a window into an actual universe of stories and possibilities. Healing, strength and new life inevitably extends outward past our clients and splashes onto the other people in their lives. Everyone is reachable.
It took 3 Ironmans, 3 Thors, 3 Avengers, 3 Captain Americas, 2 Guardians of the Galaxys, 1 Dr. Strange and 1 Black Panther (just to name a portion of the Marvel universe) in order to make 1 Avengers Infinity War (released Spring 2018). That’s a lot of stories to tell in order to make one ultimate kind of story come to life. Marvel invested 10 years into it. We have a precious moment with our clients. And their stories are worth the telling, not just for the sake of narrative, but for the sake of who they are in-the-making and those brilliant stories yet to be. Stories that need to be. However long it takes. People have about 80-90 years. “How many more sessions?” As many as you need. So, dear client, no need to convince me you’ve got a finale worth waiting for, I already believe it. Me, too. In order to get there, though, we must engage with what’s here.
I can’t wait 🙂
How about you in your therapy practice? Does this resonate with you? What did I miss? What would you add? How have you managed pacing in your sessions? Have you ever felt the urge to rush your clients at all? Or felt like the work has been going too slow? How have you dealt with that? I’d love to hear about your experience! Any suggestions you’d offer me and your colleagues here? Please leave your thoughts or questions below, every idea counts and could help change someone’s universe!!