The gift of therapy

23 Mar 2015

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The Impact of The Gift of Therapy on My Professional Development

The Gift of Therapy by Yalom has been a refreshing supplement to the readings and coursework that I've experienced this semester. Personally, my interest, background, and former academic training has come from a psychodynamic & psychoanalytically oriented model. With a semester filled with Intervention, Psychometrics, and Psychopathology, my professional development this semester has been more focused on the scientific and academic end of clinical psychology, with less emphasis on the interpersonal, emotional, and intimate nature of the therapeutic process. Yalom's wisdom passed on through The Gift of Therapy provided heart and soul content to balance out the more academic and scientific learning that I focused on this semester.

Yalom's holds a unique approach to psychotherapy that differs from today's trend of evidence based practice and the influence of managed care on therapy today. Although a medical doctor by profession, Yalom dissolves the doctor - patient hierarchy that exists in the helping fields by using the metaphor the therapist / client relationship as "fellow travelers" (Yalom, 2002). Yalom tells the story of two great historical healers with largely different methods. These healers were well known in their areas and spent their lives dedicated to healing others. At one point, healer one became sick, and was unable to cure himself with his own methods. He decided to set out on journey to find the other famous healer to cure him. On his journey he met a man, with whom he formed a mentee relationship with and spent the rest of his time with him learning new things. Years later when his mentor became ill and was on his deathbed, his mentor confessed to him that he was the great healer that was sought out, (healer two,) and when they met he too was sick and set out to find healer one, and that they crossed paths in search of each other. Yalom uses this story to drive the point home that not only are we all "fellow travelers" in the journey through life, but stresses that honesty and authenticity are the keys to a therapeutic relationship. Unlike the hierarchical nature of the medical model, Yalom places therapists at an equal level to those whom they are working with. He states, "We are all in this together and there is no therapist and no person immune to the inherit tragedies of existence" (Yalom, 2002). Although this is representative of his existential approach to psychotherapy, this statement inspires me in that it is a constant reminder to remain aware of my own limitations, frailties, and inherit inadequacies in being a human being.

What strikes me about Yalom's work his strive for fearlessness and authenticity. Throughout the readings he gives countless examples of times when he is fearlessly honest with clients about his own feelings, dreams, and thoughts on the therapeutic relationship. One example that comes to mind is in search to learn more about the client experience, Yalom requested that a client write a detailed account of her therapeutic experience after each session. In return, he agreed to do the same, highlighting what he felt was most valuable in therapy and what stood out to him. They agreed to exchange these letters on a regular basis and discuss the discrepancies. What stood out to me most was Yalom's humility, in that he described several instances in which what stood out were not his "brilliant interpretations," but subtitles in his stress, complements, and affect throughout the session. He uses this as a lesion in humility in that the client experience in the therapy room is often starkly in contrast to the therapist's perception of what is valuable. Additionally, as a young therapist I would imagine it difficult to engage in such an intimate letter writing exchange with a client. I would imagine a feeling of vulnerability in not only asking for client critique, but sharing my internal experiences during the session. Yalom's story was inspirational to me, as it was another example of the effectiveness of fearlessness and authenticity when establishing relationships.

Another aspect of Yalom's influence on me was his transparency in communicating with his clients about the "hear and now" of the therapy room. Being extremely process orientated, Yalom encourages clinicians to place extra emphasis and actively discuss what is happening within the relationship between therapist and client during the session. Yet another example of fearlessness, he provides various examples and stories of times when he's done this and the benefit that it's had on the therapeutic relationship. We shares that after each session, it is normal for both client and therapist to reflect on the interactions of the hour, and states that as relationship oriented creatures, we all have these thoughts whether or not they are conscious. Yalom feels that it is nearly impossible to know really what the other feels, as we tend to project our own feelings so much onto the other. Given that, as a therapist he actively brings this notion into the therapy room with a client, and checks in with them about their process. Once statement that stood out to me was an example of Yalom doing this where he stated, "I wonder as we both leave our session, what will be the unspoken statements / unasked questions of our interaction today? (Yalom, 2002). I find this statement to be transparent and bold, as it invites an open dialogue about the what is unspoken in the room. The statement inspired me to not only think about what this process will be with clients, but also forced me to reflect on my own personal relationships, and how being more here and now focused and have a positive impact on them.

As my professional development continues, I have become more interested in solution focused models. Specifically, Reality Therapy has become of increased interest to me, and I have spent this semester researching more aspects of Glasser's Choice Theory. Yalom's relational and highly interpersonal approach to therapy has forced to think more critically on how I can integrate a more process, oriented approach with another that is more systematic.

How was the Gift of Therapy useful to you in your professional development this term?

  • Heart and soul course in an academic, scientific semester (psychometrics, psychopathology, treatment models)
  • Healer Story / Writing Story
  • Boldness - here and now
  • Some advice against message in class (let people matter to you)
  • Forced me to rethink more structured treatment (my interest in reality therapy)

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