Sunday, August 7, 2016

Maunderings #1: The glimmer of negativity

I’m having a cynical feeling lately. For the first time in my career, I’ve left a counseling position because of failure. For nine straight months – I moved to Nevada last November – I’ve seen an anemic three or four clients a day, rarely five, less rarely two or one. Despite my best efforts, I could never reach escape velocity to a sturdy baseline clientele, or to confidence in my ability to keep them. A projected decent week always proved to be a mirage, with gaping holes in it that clients fell through like rain. This all contrasts with Ohio, where for the immediate previous five years I saw forty clients a week.

It remains amazing to me that after these many months I continue to wonder what happened. In my Pickerington, OH office, there were always a few dozen “regulars” I could count on, though a good portion of them would be sleepers, making a “guest appearance” every few weeks or unpredictably. Here, I’ve had five to eight stalwarts, and in my final week it all decayed to four goodbyes. I admit – I’d love to blame the unserious, superficial, escapist and frightened Nevada clients. And the nice but fading ones: Even those who liked me would just wander away. I’d love to blame the poor quality of Intakes: so many people who never wanted therapy. I was invited to see the problem as the “transient” nature of the Las Vegas population, and though I have had a startling number of clients who actually did leave town after the first or second session, I just can’t feel right to exonerate myself because of migratory trends and sociology.

What I think I have to blame is primarily my therapy approach, secondarily as it peculiarly lands on fun-seeking residents of the desert. And here is where the cynicism comes in, because while I am now questioning my timing and presentation of the approach, I’ve continued to believe it is the right one. And I mean right, as in the best way to introduce people to, and to do, psychological work. I am talking about the depth principle that focuses not on “positives” and “strengths” and “solutions,” but on the actual underlying injuries in people’s psyche, embedded in their history.

Actually, the cynical part is this: I’m thinking of changing the timing, presentation, and the approach itself despite its being the potentially most helpful.

Yet . . . can an idea be both cynical and conscientious? I ask, because this failure has made me wonder, for the first time in my twenty years’ work, whether mention of pathology, of injury, is helpful at all. Or rather, if it is the glimmer of negativity that is always to be avoided in therapy. Should the theme, the assumption of our work be positivity, brightness, reasoned hope, vitamins and sunshine? If the inner child is mentioned, should it be cute not rageful (as Calof sardonically discusses at Is there reason to suggest anything but cautiously good expectations, even though we know one can’t completely remake a life? Is it the kiss of death – not just to therapy, but to the soul – to imply determinism?

I hope this doesn’t seem too cloudy, because I believe these are the biggest questions. Are therapists other than myself – at least those who work in general counseling centers – invariably optimistic, despite the fact that people are who we were, are the displaced child, in essential (and demonstrably self-sabotaging) ways? And if they are optimistic, is this ultimately realistic or is it delusional? (Is the delusional the realistic?)

These questions lead to more ultimate ones: Can people actually be happy, despite never-healed or -healable roots? Can they be happy enough? Is it somehow a right rule, as we live our life, to gaze at the bright spot, to always return to the most serene or warm-bright thought or memory, in a personal grey or dark universe? And – are these questions that the therapist should answer?

Maybe I need to ask my clients – Do you want to just be as happy as you can, or do you want to be real? If they will answer this question, maybe then I’ll know the right way to succeed.

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.