We therapists are funny. We are endlessly generous towards our clients - well most of us are. We listen at length. We are curious about our clients’ worlds and about their realities. We are genuinely interested in those people we work with and for. We try our very best to get alongside them. We want the very best for them and long for them to be successful.
But when it comes to each other everything seems to change. We find it hard to believe that our colleagues do not work in the same way as ourselves. We question how they could have come to such strange conclusions. We doubt their motives and if not their motives – their sanity. We feel compelled to see them as misguided at best, as deluded at worst. We doubt their research – how could such changes be possible after just three or four or five or six or seven or thirty-two sessions. Or why would they have taken ten sessions when it would have taken me five? Why when another therapist is successful does it seem as if we feel diminished by that success? Why are we so competitive? Why is it so hard to accept that so many, very different therapies based on such diverse premises all seem to work?
The idea that helps me when thinking about different therapeutic models is the image of different approaches as different countries. Different countries each tend to have their own language, their own customs, their own rituals, their own beliefs and their own values. Different countries are – well – different; they have their own ways of doing things and if we are to understand them we have to start from a ‘good-will’ position, from the assumption that they have their own good reasons for doing things the way that they do. In order to ‘understand’ another therapeutic approach we have to start from this same position of ‘good-will’ towards our colleagues. We have to be able to suspend our certainties, to set aside for the time-being our assumptions, to give-up truth claims. Being truly interested in our colleagues’ ways of working requires that we accept a ‘both/and’ perspective, giving up the habitual comfort of our cosy ‘either/or’.
But of course it is not easy. And it is not easy because therapeutic models are not just sets of techniques, they also tend to bring their own implicit, sometimes unstated, value-bases. One of the things that I often find myself saying on training programmes is ‘people have better things to do than to talk with me – life is for living – not for talking about’. Now this assertion is not a fact, is not right or wrong, it is merely a view and many other therapists of other persuasions may not agree. Whilst I believe in brevity others may genuinely hold the view that a long-term therapy is ‘life-enhancing’, that a long-term relationship with a therapist adds to the richness of life. We have moved beyond the realm of right or wrong, into the world of opinion, of preference.
So when we are teaching it should not be our task or indeed our wish to try to convert our participants to our own approach. Rather what we should be attempting is to lay out our diverse approaches with sufficient clarity such that our participants can make good decisions about their future therapeutic directions. We know that professionals work best when they are using an approach that inspires them day by day, that fits with their values and their beliefs, that ‘suits’ them. And it is genuinely fortunate that there are many good models out there since no one model works all the time for every client. We need a range of different therapists and therapies. We need diversity and we should work hard to respect it.