Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Insult Me, Why Don't You?

May I suggest that part of psychotherapy is giving people feedback about themselves they may not want to hear? One of the many reasons why therapy is something different than talking with a friend, or simply 'conversation,' is that the therapist may point out to the patient certain things that in friendly conversation might seem hurtful, unkind, or downright mean. And why? Well, if you don't notice you're doing something, how can you change? Or maybe you don't want to change, but how do you come to make peace with it? Sometimes, it helps to know you're doing distasteful things. Some days I feel like I spend my days insulting people.

The thing is, people don't get offended. The don't meltdown, and there are reasons why this is. There's something about the therapeutic relationship that makes it safe to say things that aren't safe to say elsewhere. Something about the trust the patient holds makes it okay to point out their flaws. Sometimes, it takes a little bit of easing into...and sometimes it takes a little bit of building up at the same time to make it so someone is comfortable hearing something they don't necessarily want to hear. Screaming "You did WHAT?!" doesn't tend to offer room for examination. Saying, "That's interesting, you're the type of person who is usually so in tune to other people's feelings (compliment) that it's funny to hear that you were so mean to Harry (insult)." And of course, sometimes the therapist misjudges and the patient clearly feels badly and then it's time to step back-- hammering someone with something they aren't ready to hear isn't usually all that helpful.