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Tips to Protect Therapists from Taking on the Fears & Distress of Their Clients

05 Dec

Question:
 
Do you have any comments about therapists taking on somatizing the fears and anxieties of clients? Are there recommendations for therapists protecting themselves while working with clients in the altered state that guided imagery produces?

Answer:

This is more likely to happen to newbie therapists, before they get their boundaries in place, but this issue affects us all.  You want to aim to set your boundaries in such a way that you can still experience empathy and compassion, but without taking on the client’s pains and fears.  This balance is critical to being effective and to staying that way, without burning out.

Remember it’s not your job to absorb pain, but to strengthen and assist the person so that they can better deal with what is causing them pain.  Your job is to help them shift and change so that they can surmount or ameliorate their circumstances.

It’s critical for all of us to remember that it’s not all up to us. To think otherwise is arrogant and presupposes superpowers we just don’t have.  We all need to avoid the trap of falling in love with the idea of ourselves as rescuer or savior.  We are there to assist, to provide insight and (hopefully) wisdom, to ask the right questions, provide moral support and tell the useful, useable truth; we are there to make it easy for the client to tell the truth about him or herself; and we are there to see the hidden splendor of that client and hold that unsullied vision, straight and true, while he or she struggles and changes.
 
It’s important to remember that just holding the space and holding the potential for unfettered growth in that space is huge and impactful.  Wishing our clients well from our hearts under these circumstances can make a vast difference – it’s transformative on an energetic level.  It comes down to these attitudes and beliefs, along with our conventional sets of skills and interventions and techniques…this is what gets the job done.
 
There are several ways to deploy imagery to help you keep your boundaries in right relationship too – whether you’re actually using imagery in the session or just having a regular, garden variety, talk therapy type hour.

Here are some ways:

  • Envision yourself as a sieve rather than a receptacle – feelings and thoughts pass through you, you experience them empathically and with full awareness as they travel on through you, but you do not keep them.

  • See yourself as surrounded by a cushion of protective, insulating energy, in which invisible helpers abide, hanging out to assist and share the work.

  • See your client surrounded by the same thing – a protective, insulating cushion of energy, filled with invisible helpers.  This will gently remind you that the work is being carried on many shoulders.

  • If you feel yourself becoming enmeshed in a codependent situation with your client and taking on unhealthy and inappropriate amounts of responsibility, imagine taking out a gigundo scissors and cutting the cords that are binding you to this other person.  

It also helps to have some sort of cleansing ritual after each client leaves the room – you may want to step out yourself, open the window, breathe different air, wash your hands, rub the belly of your favorite Buddha statue, do a dance or shake out your limbs… it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you declare your intention to cleanse and clear your system of whatever has transpired.

I hope this helps.  I’m sure others will be posting terrific suggestions and ideas for you, because everyone deals with this, one way or the other.

All best,

Belleruth

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award