All about doubt
An article about one of man's psychological enemiies!
The Common Enemy
This article will probably benefit the newer therapist more than the ‘seasoned professional’.
Every so often, something pops into my head that I realise I’ve known and worked with for my entire therapy career but never actually put into words. Just such an event occurred yesterday, a train of thoughts about something that is common to therapist and client, a common enemy that can cause therapy to falter or even fail completely. We’ve all experienced it and will continue to do so from time to time so I hope this article can help you to slip by it when it strikes, by recognising it for what it is.
The enemy is DOUBT.
If doubt overrides belief – in either client or practitioner – then the success of therapy is at risk. It’s not just in therapy, in fact, but in everything we do and that includes running the business of therapy. But what is doubt actually for? What purpose does it serve if it so easily creates failure?
The answer is that it’s an essential tool for survival, inherited from our ancestors. If we’re not sure of an outcome and in the absence of imminent threat, doubt seeks to avoid change. But that’s not the problem – it’s how it does it that is so important. It’s the work of the Reptilian Complex and where it perceives there is risk, i.e. an uncertain outcome, it will trigger an urge to avoid the situation altogether, quite often creating an inescapable feeling that what we are doing is just not going to work. It actually encourages us to abandon the process. The client perceives that they are wasting their money; the therapist perceives that their integrity is at risk. The client might believe they were foolish to even think about ‘getting better’; the therapist fears they are about to be ‘found out’ for being the ineffective therapist they already fear they are. Because they are thinking of failure, both therapist and client begin to see evidence of it – after all, doubt is stopping progress, so all that can be found is lack of progress… failure, in other words.
So often, when the inevitable happens, the following outcomes ensue:
· Therapist and client both reflect that they ‘knew all along’ it wasn’t going to work
· The therapist loses confidence and wonders if they should quit
· The client decides that therapy just doesn’t work for them
· Gains and agendas for both therapist and client remain intact
It doesn’t have to be that way. When there is little or no doubt, the Reptilian Complex instead focuses on whatever is being sought. The client looks forward to feeling well and searches to see if they’re getting what they want. The therapist searches to see how best to guide the client through whatever process is being employed.
To create this situation isn’t as difficult as it might seem – and so we’ll have a look at the absolute importance of the therapist’s role in the encounter. You need a positive viewpoint, by which I mean that if it looks as if therapy might not be successful, you become interested and curious, rather than concerned. If you can recognise that ‘failure’ is a chance to discover something you didn’t already know, you will fear it less – maybe not at all. It will therefore seem less important to the Reptilian Complex and it will be likely to trigger curiosity rather than avoidance. Your confidence stays high and you will remain convinced that there is an answer even if you can’t find it as yet. This, in turn, will allow the generation of two psychological processes that are absolutely vital for the therapist: Optimism and Enthusiasm. It is a fact that optimistic and enthusiastic individuals are generally more likely to be successful in their endeavours (not just in therapy), since they will be constantly looking for evidence of what they are searching for and never ‘miss a trick’. They are focused on the idea of success, instead of on what they might be doing wrong.
You can use those twin processes to easily dispel client doubt and keep them focused on success – inspire the client that the reward of therapy is greater than the price. Help them find a goal that makes the ‘risk’ (the cost, time, any discomfort) seem like the best of all possible deals! Ask them what they will do when they are better. Discuss it and optimistically enthuse about it, because we are pack animals and respond to the enthusiasm of others. Help the client paint a picture that really grabs their imagination and makes them want that a lot more than staying as they are. Subtly remind them of it on every visit. Make sure their Reptilian Complex is pointed towards a powerful outcome, in other words.
Some of you might have noticed that it’s the clients who are the most ill who respond best to therapy… well, this should not be a surprise. When life is really ‘bad’, almost any change will be considered to see if it makes an improvement… so the client starts investigating how much better it will be than what they already have. They start looking for what they want.
Get that process working to dispel doubt with every client and your success rates will soar!
And never doubt it!
© Terence Watts, 2018
Posted: Saturday 6th July 2019