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Month: May 2015

Is it their story or yours? 3 tips to being present with a family.

I was recently having a chat with a therapist who felt she had come to a stand still with a family she was working with. She started explaining that she had been working with the family for a while now, and was trying to encourage the father to become more involved in the programs that she was implementing. She discussed her frustrations of not being able to get him involved, when she could see how beneficial it would be for the child. As we explored her frustrations further, she began to compare her client’s family with her own family dynamics; two boys and a husband at home. The more she talked it seemed that the experiences between the two families began to parallel. Her husband used to work fly in fly out and was not able to spend much time with the boys. However, now that he was based at home and spending more time with the boys, their behavior improved significantly. Towards the end of our chat, the therapist reflected that she was allowing her experience to shape the therapy she was providing, rather than using her clinical rationale.

It can be difficult to realize when you are projecting your own experiences, views and beliefs onto a client. The challenge of a therapist is to suspend assumptions, culture and values when you step into a room to be present for another person. This discussion made me stop and reflect when this may have occurred to me. The light bulb moment came when I thought about a child with Autism that I worked with, whose mother had mental health difficulties. At that time I was supporting someone close to me who was also experiencing mental health difficulties. On reflection I now realize that the parallels in experience affected my judgment by:

  • I felt the need to ‘fix’ this family dynamic; achieving a positive outcome in this family echoed my need for one in my own situation.
  • I gave more support than was within my scope of practice; I used my own personal tips and experiences to help the family rather than using my clinical judgment, this took me longer to refer on then was needed.
  • I became more emotionally invested in the family, which affected my work life balance. This lead to me feeling burnt out and therefore less available to the family in the long run.

So from this experience here are some tips that I have learnt:

  1. Invest time in reflecting on what your culture, values, beliefs are. Begin to compare this with your clients so that you can start to recognize when yours may be conflicting/impacting on theirs.
  2. Ensure you have a mentor or supervisor that you can check in and review clients. It helps to have someone else to ask the hard questions:
    1. Are those views of the client based on your values or theirs?
    2. What experiences in your life are possibly paralleling to your clients and therefore biasing your therapeutic intervention?
    3. Are you the best person to be working with this client?
  3. Build a team of therapists around you from other professions. This allows you to refer on in confidence, to ensure that you continue to work within your scope of practice.