I was sitting with a client a while ago. We were at the beginning of the session, a time that is sometimes less focused and more “social” than the rest of the session, a time when we’re figuring out what is primary and what can be left until next time or left behind entirely. I mentioned that I’d seen a sign along the highway that reminded me of her.
She was stunned.
I couldn’t untangle all the different emotions that played across her face, but the one I resonated with was the one that probably mimicked the look I had when I was a 3rd grader and I saw my teacher in the grocery store. In that moment it had dawned on me that my teacher was a human, a real person, not someone who sat in unknowing stasis in the classroom until we came back at 8:15. My teacher shopped! She probably peed, and ate, and knew real people in the world. She didn’t sleep at school! Maybe she had kids!
I think my client felt the same. In a flash, therapy changed for her. She suddenly realized that there was a human sitting across from her, someone incapable of unfeelingly compartmentalizing all the emotion and life that flows during our times together. She knew then that I wrestled with those questions away from the office. She discovered something that therapists do that clients often don’t think about – we think about our clients and their lives and their emotions and their problems and their bright victories and jarring losses away from the confines of that rigid 50-minute office frame.
Studies from across the theoretical board show that if you want to get good therapy work done, it’s all about the relationship. Therapists from all corners of the profession are in the business of making strong human bonds so they can do the rest of their work. If that bond didn’t transcend the therapy hour, it wouldn’t be real, it would be an invention meant to enable therapeutic progress. And it just doesn’t work that way.
Your therapist, if she or he is doing the job in a competent way, is bound to you by far more than a pile of therapy notes and insurance bills. And I can virtually guarantee you that at some point, on some insomniac night or relaxed coffee-sipping morning, you’ve been thought of as much more than a client number.
Ask your therapist next time you see them, and see what sort of answer you get.