I recently had a final session with a client where we reviewed their progress. They achieved the goals that they wanted to in therapy and we were discussing our work together.
“How was therapy for you?” I asked. Pause. Pause continues. I started to feel apprehensive. In my head I went over our sessions and our work together. I thought that it went well and that the client was getting what they needed. My thoughts were interrupted with, “Well, it’s not what I thought it would be. I thought it would be like Dr. Phil.”
“No, I’m not Dr. Phil” I replied.
Therapy is a unique profession in that it is not one that is familiar to those outside of it. When we think of doctors or teachers we have an understanding of what they do because we have all had some interaction or experience with them. But the experience of therapy is unknown to many and so people don’t know what to expect when they come to see me.
While Dr. Phil may make for energetic television it is not a representation of therapy. I don’t raise my voice with my clients, I don’t get in their face, I don’t sit in judgement of them, and I don’t tell them what to do. Instead, I listen. I’m curious about who they are and how they came to be that way. I want to fully understand what they need and want and that’s not something that can be done from a place of judgement.
After listening, I tell clients what I hear. This sounds like a simple concept but it’s not something that people often encounter. I don’t tell people what I think they want to hear, I tell them what I see and hear. This means that I point out contradictions and inconsistencies in what they say they want and what they are actually doing. It means that I speak about what is and not what we want it to be.
And then I give my ideas, suggestions, and thoughts about how to change their circumstances. Unlike what we see on television I don’t yell at my clients calling them crazy, insane, or misguided. I offer understanding about why they do what they do. I offer confidence in their ability to change what they do. I offer suggestions about what to change and how to change it. And I offer support in making those concrete changes.
So no, I’m not Dr. Phil. I am a therapist who loves her work and thoroughly enjoys her clients and the work that we do together.