I believe I have the best job in the world. I am a therapist based in Florham Park and Montclair. As a therapist I get to connect with people on an individual level. Over a cup of tea and the course of a session I get snapshots of clients’ lives. With time I get to see people create or recapture lives that appeared beyond their grasp.
In full disclosure though I must admit that not every session goes fantastic. Not every client comes in for their own personal growth and development. Some clients are propelled into therapy to escape from troubles. Maybe it is a spouse who is fed up. Sometimes it could be parents who are threatening to cut off their child. Other times it could be the threat of academic or career destruction. Sometimes when I meet people whose lives are a wreck.
Now I have no issue with clients like that. I am not judging them. I think raging infernos are a great place to start building from. But some of these clients, coming in with destroyed personal and professional relationships, still struggle to open up. Below is a dialogue with a fictitious client which illustrates this.
Me: So what brings you in? How can I help?
Client: Ah I’ve had some minor hiccups at home and at work.
Me: Okay so you got some friction going on both fronts. Flesh it out for me. Zoom in to the 30,000 foot view.
Client: I really don’t like my boss and my wife is a little annoyed with me.
So I am sitting there with a client who appears relatively calm, cool, and collected. I find myself thinking, “Well this guy is presenting as a 3 on the scale to 10 of infernos. We’ll do some minor cleaning up, give him a little booster shot, and get him back into the game.”
Except I got collateral information from the client’s wife. Turns out the client is on the verge of losing his job for getting into serious and public verbal altercations with his boss. On the home front the wife is packing his bags and getting ready to call the locksmith.
Me: You know I spoke with your wife. She is giving a slightly different picture. Something about some altercations with your boss.
Client: Yeah I guess so. But it isn’t that bad. We are buddies and he wouldn’t do anything.
Me: Strange. I was under the impression that you received your last written warning. Next stop is termination.
Client: Hmm you got me there.
After countless interactions like this a central question started to formulate in my mind. “Why are people so reluctant to share the WHOLE truth?”
With this question in mind I went directly to the source; my clients. Whenever I would become aware that one of them was holding something back I would ask them why.
Me: When I inquired about how your weekend went you said it was pretty good.
Client: Yeah that’s right pretty normal weekend I guess.
Me: Interesting. Did you crash your car this weekend? And were you drinking at the time?
Client: It wasn’t terrible but I did crash my car. I am okay.
Me: I am glad that you are okay. Cars can be repaired much easier than people. I have to ask. Why did you not share that with me before I asked about it?
Client: I guess I was embarrassed about it.
This exchange is very common. As clients start to value our relationship they are sometimes embarrassed when they “mess-up”. Every time this happens is an opportunity for the therapeutic relationship to be strengthened. This is the first of a series of articles on why clients struggle to ask for help. Please tune back in for part 2 in the near future. If you yourself are struggling to ask for help in a certain area in your life, please do not hesitate to contact us.