The therapeutic relationship between a client and therapist is unique and potent. Every week for an hour, a client risks trusting his therapist as he reveals parts of himself, bit by bit, sharing his pain and trauma and tries to unfold layer after layer of his life, reaching the deepest and darkest corners of his mind and heart, hoping to be heard and seen and accepted for who he is.
It’s a potent, emotionally intimate space that is co-created between them both where anything and everything has permission to be expressed. A client expects to be heard and not judged and dismissed based on cultural and social prejudices.
The question that arises in many clients is: Am I just a client? Does my therapist care for me beyond sessions? Does he think about me and is concerned for the matters of my life?
This word ‘client’, that is used to normalise therapy by not referring to the other as a patient still seems to trigger the clients and makes them place themselves in a box where they think they are just another appointment on the therapist’s calendar.
In reality, the term client attempts at facilitating an I-thou stance in therapy which means that there is a human-to-human connection between the client and therapist; an equal relationship of sorts even though no relationship can be equal. But unlike a doctor and patient where the doctor in a one-up powerful position decides what its patient needs, a therapeutic relationship is based on a sense of mutuality and shared exploration of the journey of self-awareness and healing the client embarks on.
I often suggest an idea to my clients with, ‘correct me if I am wrong’ or ‘trust your instincts about what is being said.’ As a therapist I am not claiming that I am an authority on the human psyche and my insights have to be blindly taken in. Yes, therapists understand the psyche more than a layman but I also believe that all the knowledge that an individual needs to understand and heal himself is within him and the therapist just shines a torch on it within a safe space and a therapeutic bond based on compassion and congruence.
Now comes the pertinent question. Am I just a client? So, replying to this question that is rooted in vulnerability and longing to be loved unconditionally and questions if one is paying to be cared for, this is what I have to say.
I care for my clients and it is my faith and love in them that acts as the fertile soil on which the trust in a therapist grows and creates safety for therapy to work. I do reflect on my clients after sessions and experience the conflict and pain of sitting across a client who is overwhelmed and yet ending the session when the time is over.
It is as difficult for me as a therapist as it is for the client at that moment. A therapist is also affected by the pain and anguish of its client but is trained to work with it and towards containment of it for his and his client’s benefit. It’s a felt relationship between the two and like the client who carries the conflict of, am I just a client, the therapist also wonders, if she is just a therapist? At the end of the day, a client can choose to terminate at any given time, leaving the therapist with many unanswered questions.
Many times I am asked, why does it matter if extra time is given? Yes, it matters a great deal because it is a breach of boundary and a boundary is a very crucial ingredient for good therapy to take place. Boundaries are the constant that create safety for clients and facilitate a standard and structure to the therapeutic process.
Therapists model boundaries around their actions for their clients, but at the same time facilitate a free space that invites the clients to explore any feeling or subject that the outer world might not facilitate like the subject of sexuality. Therapists take the risk of being perceived as cold and calculating but the boundaries that we are imparting is evidence of the compassion we have for our client’s well-being and all our actions are intended towards processing the awareness and transformation of the clients.
Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, considered therapy ‘in essence a cure through love.’
So a client is not just a ‘client’ for a therapist.
The writer is a UK-CPCAB (Counselling and Psycho therapy Awarding Body) certified individual and couple psycho therapist based in Islamabad. She can be reached at zaramaqbool