As a primarily-psychodynamic counsellor/psychotherapist, I practice certain techniques which help me maintain the therapeutic-alliance between my client and I. Two techniques I find very helpful come from Patrick Casement (1985): trial-identification and internal supervision. These are methods, in addition to using my counter-transference, attempt to assist me in being able to put myself in the client’s place; to gain insight into how the client is feeling (even if the client may not know him/her/self/themselves) before and after I offer an therapeutic intervention to test out how it might be/have been received
A story for you: whilst preparing the room for a client some months back, it occurred to me that there might be another way to gain insight into a client’s perspective … to literally sit in the client’s chair(s).
Whilst waiting for the next session’s start time, and with the room’s door closed, I chose to sit in the client’s chair for around five minutes. I pondered about the counselling work that I and my client were doing together. I noticed how different the room looked from this perspective and how odd it felt looking a the room from here. I could see the chair that I normally sat in. I noticed the plants behind that chair that I would not see during session. I noticed the clock behind where my head would normally be. The room looked quite different, rather larger in fact, and the space felt somehow at odds with itself. During this sense of difference I considered the counselling case and the past few sessions. By the time the session was due to begin, I had reverted back to my own chair and did not overtly share my behaviour with my client.
Where had this inspiration come from? I can tell you that some ten years ago, the counselling organisation in which I used to work sent down a request from the organisation’s supervisor of supervisors. The message to all counsellors was along these lines: when your client is late for a session, try to avoid waiting for the client in the office/common room; instead wait in the counselling room itself and reflect upon the counselling work with your absent client.
To this day I still continue that practice to of waiting in the room for a late-client. But on that particular day, several months ago, the inspiration to sit in the client’s chair, privately and prior to the session, brought some interesting insight into the case that I had not considered before; I had gained a small but important additional viewpoint, I was looking at things from a different position (literally and figuratively). It has proved to be useful from time to time and now forms part of my therapy toolbox.
Have you experienced insight into a counselling case through sitting in the client’s chair?
- Patrick Casement (1985), On Learning from the Patient.
- For this article I am defining the term “client” to include an individual, a couple’s relationship (couple counselling), a polyamorous relationship-group or a small therapy group ^
- …before the client arrived for the session, and done so in private; this is an experience for the therapist – it is not to have the client feel threatened because the room, its layout, boundaries and the client’s own chair are being changed or invaded by this practice – though if we believe in the unconscious the client will be aware of this approach at some level. ^
- … although I did use the experience to inform a number of potential interpretations that I considered for my client) ^
- Chichester Counselling Services, West Sussex ^
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Therapists who work with: Psychodynamic.