Therapists and coaches are human (*Gasp, I know*). We will make mistakes on a daily basis, and I for one will be the first to admit that I make them all the time.
However, there’s A LOT we can gain from learning from them and being aware of the big ones that we can at times continue for a long time when we don’t realize that we are making them. Here’s a list of some of the common mistakes that I’ve made, along with my peers and what to look out for when seeking a good therapist or coach.
- Thinking too much about how to respond vs. just listening. — When we are in our heads, we are terrible listeners. It’s just the way humans are created. When I first began therapy and coaching, I would often get so caught up in what “amazing insight” I wanted to point out to my client, that I would really miss the big picture, and not truly be present with them. I would wait for a pause, and sometimes *cringe* I would be so impatient to respond that I would cut them off. My “amazing insight” is NEVER better than really LISTENING to the client and giving them space to process. Plus, most of the time, my amazing insight is NOT what the client needs, especially when you give them the impression your just “advicing” on them. Much of the therapy magic is done through creating space for people to come to their own insights, expand their ways of thinking, and grow. My “insight” never trumps that.
- Pretending to be an emotion-less robot. — I used to think that when you were doing therapy, it was a time to cut off your attention from yourself, and fully absorb the other person. While being present IS super important, it’s not very relationship building when we aren’t aware of what’s going on with our own bodies (emotionally or physically). In fact, naming our own discomfort or feelings during the session can, when done well, be very healing. I now let my client’s know when I’m feeling a bit off because of sickness, or if I just heard really bad news, or if I’m feeling like my heart is racing as a couple yells back and forth. I pause, try to differentiate, and tell them “I’m noticing that in myself I’m feeling my heart race and I’m having a hard time keeping up, can you slow things down for me a bit?” 9.9 times/10 this is more helpful for clients then pretending like I’m a robot as they engage in war or tell me about past trauma. By modeling our own emotion regulation, this helps clients learn to name their feelings and stay in the moment too. Helping our client’s build that skill is one of the most healing things we can do.
- Caring TOO much about your client’s success. — Yes, I said it. When we are overly invested in our client’s making positive changes, it is important for us to stand back and ask ourselves, “Why am I really THIS invested?.. Is it about my client’s long-term wellbeing, or is it about my need for them to be successful so my ego doesn’t take a hit?” When we are pushing for our client’s success, and stressing ourselves out in the process –that’s often called “working for the client”, and that is not a good thing. When we “work for the client” we are often doing their work for them and they never actually LEARN to do the work for themselves (Like getting frustrated with a kid and tying their shoes for them). Additionally, when we care too much about client outcomes, we often end up feeling stressed out and being unable to be the presence our client’s truly need us to be.
- Making assumptions about culture or what people know. — I used to think that most people had what was called “theory of mind”, or the ability to think about one’s mind and thoughts from an observational view. Boy, was I wrong. Most people struggle to name more than 2 emotions (and that’s totally okay!)… and weren’t odd, psychology reading nerds like myself. I have also learned that I can never assume I understand what a person will believe or what their cultural outlook is. I remember being confused and surprised when a transgendered client was embracing of so many different genders and sexualities, but still felt discomfort around gay men. Again, I am learning to open up my mind and experiences to being embracing of all viewpoints and understanding my client’s wherever they are coming from. And with my experiences, reaffirming that “every thing makes sense in context”.