Who’s the real hero of this psych stuff?

Psychology can be alluring.

Its insights can help explain and make sense of people’s problems and provide structure to what can feel like chaos (to both clients and therapists). It can provide a sense of hope that there’s something ‘out there’ that could help people overcome their difficulties, achieve their goals and make changes.

So why then, as disparate as many therapies are, does it work?

The answer: the client.

Clients are the common factor across all theories. In fact, studies have suggested that up to 86% of change is attributable to you, the client….86%!

That is…your hopes…your relationships…your cultural resources…your expectancy of change…your views on the relationship with your therapist…your belief that the therapist can help you…your own resources…strengths…and resilience….and so on, all of this is what provides the fuel to make therapy work.

It’s not to do with the ‘expert’ therapist…as much as both parties may like to think it is!

I listen out for their resourcefulness as they continue to get through difficult situations, even if they cannot see it for themselves…yet.

I listen out for the strength of character that all clients are challenged to draw upon as they go through the dark night of the soul, even if they cannot see it for themselves…yet.

I tailor my approach to hear the stories of heroes. I get curious about their experience of every session, wanting to know what was helpful and what would be meaningfully better next time. I work with their theory of change – what they think needs to happen in each session, so they can move towards their goals. And I listen intently for any sign of change they make in their life that nudges them, even just a little, towards what they want most from our work together.

Clients are the heroes of their stories. My job is to help them take centre stage.

One ‘tip’ for getting through tough times

The writings and experiences of Victor Frankl are almost legendary. His book, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ has sold over 10 million copies in 24 languages and is an inspiration to many.

In it, Frankl details his experiences of surviving Nazi concentration camps in World War 2, before outlining the principles of his approach to therapy: logotherapy

Central to Frankl’s approach is the belief that humans have a need to find meaning in their lives in order to sustain them and promote growth. Of course, in Frankl’s experience, the meaning of life was deeply challenged through the horrific experiences of concentration camps and the sheer terror faced on a daily basis.

On a superficial reading, Frankl’s book can be seen as promoting the value of having a ‘positive attitude’ in the face of challenges. This misses his point. Frankl’s book challenges us to seek and create meaning in our lives, particularly in the face of difficulty. There is a transcendental nature to Frankl’s writing that challenges us to rise above that which we’re facing, to make our experiences and lives larger than the problem itself.

A specific example from the text which stood out for me was Frankl’s account of being asked to give what was, essentially, a ‘motivational speech’ to camp members. Frankl, bereft of what to say that would even remotely stir hope in the face of such desperate circumstances, asked those around him to use their imagination…

To imagine that those we loved most in the world were in the room, watching us in this moment – what would they’d most want to see in us as we face this challenge? How would they most want us to act in the face of such difficulties?

For Frankl, constantly asking such a question carries the potential of infusing any moment with meaning and serves as an act of soul-enriching revolt.

Whilst Frankl’s writing may seem a long way off from the world of sport, business and personal development, I wonder what differences it may make for you should you ask yourself the same question in relation to an ongoing difficulty.