SAT Green People tape 1987

Q: Dick, when you hear the phrase therapeutic relationship, what does it mean to you?

Dick: It can mean various things at various times. The therapist can be a teacher, a guide, a counselor, a supporter, a fellow explorer. It can be a fellow student; it can be a brother or sister. It shifts from time to time as he assumes different roles.

Q: And are there some traps in the therapeutic relationship?

Dick: Oh yes. I would say that the greatest of these is ego investment. I mean by that the compulsion that the therapist must be right or must be the authority who knows all the answers. This results in power struggles that can go nowhere except to frustration.

Q: Has your thinking about this evolved over time?

Dick: Not over a great period of time. I think I realized early on that ego investment is a trap that leads nowhere. I did this by simply observing in myself some of the blind alleys that I'd get into and frustration or tension.

Another aspect of this is the usefulness of using my own body, my own associations. Using myself in other words, as a tool in the work.

Q: So, in other words, as you watch yourself you might notice some thoughts or feelings.

Dick: Yes, whatever it might be. It might be a body sensation. It

might be a spontaneous image that might arise. It might be an

association with something in my own life. You know, that

reminds me of this or reminds me of that. It might be a

sentence, a comment, that would suddenly pop into my mind that I

would either make, or ask the person to repeat as a sentence.

Q: Now Dick, when you use your body as a tool, that's a little different for most therapists. They have a kind of taboo against touching.

Dick: That requires a certain amount of discrimination. It's true that there are times when the last thing that the client wants is to be touched in any way. We've got to be alert to that. But in terms of the taboo on touching, I wonder where a taboo like that comes from. I wonder if that's simply coming out of some fear or some inhibition on the therapist's part.

Q: Well, if some clients have learned that you should never touch your clients, maybe you could say some things about some guidelines that you might have about when it's useful to touch a client.

Dick: It's useful very often, particularly with people you don't know, to ask permission to touch them. To say, "I'm going to touch your shoulder now, is that all right with you?" Other times that's not necessary. The whole point is, just your own sensitivity in terms of what is or is not intrusive.

Q: Dick, we know that every therapist has a certain structure. Let's talk a little bit about what some of the pitfalls for therapists are in working with clients.

Dick: You mean in terms of the inclinations that might come out of their particular character structure?

Q: Exactly.

Dick: Well, the loving structure, the oral type, would have to be on guard against rushing into the overly supportive, overly helping, overly mothering. There is a way of being supportive that's useful, of course, but there's also a way of being supportive to such a degree that you take the ground away from under the client's feet. You undercut his own support.

Some of the other structures: The creative, or the schizoid structure would need to be on guard that they not lose their own grounding, which of course is the problem with this structure. Clients who get into releasing a great deal of effect or get into some other kind of situation that's very high energy would be possible for a creative structure to lose their own grounding in a situation like that.

Dick: That's right. To frustrate, frustrate, frustrate. Not the person. Not to frustrate them in some sadistic manner. But to frustrate that neurotic pattern of relating.

Q: Let's go on to resistance. How do you think about resistance? What is it for you?

Dick: I think that resistance is a misnomer. I think it's so easy to see resistance as an obstacle that has to be overcome or a defense that has to be battered down. I think of the resistance as actually the client's thrust for autonomy. And this is a very, very positive thing. It's true that at times it comes on as though the client is simply being obstinate or the client is frightened and this thrust for autonomy should be recognized as such and honored. Very often when that recognition is accorded to it, the so-called resistance begins to melt away.

Q: So no matter how neurotic or self-limiting the thrust is, the idea that there's a thrust for autonomy should be nurtured and respected.

Dick: The idea that there's a thrust for autonomy should be respected. And should be nurtured. And it should be pointed out to the client that this is how you see the resistance.

Sometimes people will say, I'm resisting you. I don't know why, I just can't help it. And at this point to say to them, "But that's fine because that's your thrust for autonomy, this is a way in which you learned to protect yourself, to preserve yourself as a person years ago when you were growing up. And it's perfectly fine. You can learn other ways, less self limiting ways, of asserting your autonomy."

Q: So it's a kind of re-framing.

Dick: Yes, it is. It precisely is from that point of view it is a reframing. From the idea that this is a resistance which somehow stands in the way to the idea that it is a thrust for autonomy, which is a very healthy thing.

Q: And this is an important factor, I assume, in the therapist client relationship.

Dick: Very. Because if the therapist recognizes resistance in this way, there is going to be fewer power struggles.

Q: Well, that brings up the question of ego investment. This would be a problem for therapists if they were ego invested, I assume.

Dick: It would be a tremendous problem for them, because every time the client moves to self-assertion, to autonomy, it would involve in some way a contradiction of what the therapist was saying or doing, then you would have them head on, head to head.

Q: What does trust mean to you in this regard?

Dick: Trust is usually thought of as the client's ability to feel secure in believing that the therapist will not humiliate him, will not betray confidentiality, will not use him to his own advantage in some way, take advantage of him in some way. And, of course, that is one aspect of it. But to me, trust becomes much more a matter of the client's ability to trust himself.

And when people say to me, I want to trust you, or when they say, I don't trust you yet, or I don't trust you, my response is, good. I don't want you to trust me. Because what's really important is that you trust yourself enough to take risks. It's always the possibility that you're going to be betrayed or hurt in some way. And although it's not my intention to do that, it's up to you to take the risk, and to learn to take that risk.

Often when I say that to clients, that begins to dissipate the whole issue of trust for them. Because if they say to me, I have a problem with trusting you, and I say, "Good, I don't want you to trust me, trust yourself," that cuts the issue from under them.

Q: What does love mean to you in the context of psychotherapy?

Dick: I think of love and, of course, its opposite hate, as being essentially attitudes rather than feelings, rather than emotions. The idea of love is that I would preserve you. And the idea of hate is I would destroy you. In other words, if I love you, then I would preserve your health, your fortune, your happiness, your reputation, your property, everything about you.

And I want to see you happy, for example. If I hate you I would want to destroy you, whether it be your reputation, your happiness, your property, your health, whatever it might be. There are, of course, degrees of how far I would go with my hate.

Q: And you could have lots of different feelings, I assume.

Dick: The feelings are not in themselves love. They are associated with the attitude, they cluster around this attitude. It's possible to love you and to be very angry with you, for example. It's also possible to love you and be very happy. Or very sorrowful or very fearful.

And similarly with hate, I can be very sad if I love you and I see that you're miserable, but if I hate you enough I'll be very, very happy when I see that you are miserable.

Q: And as a therapist, does love come into play?

Dick: Love certainly comes into play with it. It's necessary to love your client if you want to be effective in the sense that I've been talking about. Not in a sentimental, emotional way in which you overlook all of his shortcomings, overlook all of his ploys and his manipulations and his holding backs. But in the desire to preserve him.

Q: That may mean, for example, that you will often frustrate him. Earlier you mentioned a number of different rules that the therapist could adopt with a client. Could you say something about some of them?

Dick: I do take on these various roles are various times. One that I'll mention because I don't enter into it too often is that of counselor/advisor.

Q: People often want you to advise them, to counsel them, to make their decisions, and of course, that's not where it's at. That's precisely the problem that they have. And in doing that for them you are destroying their own grounding, if you do that too readily.

Dick: There are times when I have done this. I'm thinking, for example, of a young woman who had never made a great deal of money and suddenly she was in a position where she was making what for her was a great deal of money. But instead of being better off financially, she found herself getting more and more in debt. And she asked me desperately what we could do to work on this.

So I simply took on the role of being a personal advisor at that point. I helped her to work out a way of saving, of what to do with her credit cards. Of taking the first hundred dollars every week and putting that aside. Making that the first step in the disposal of her income. And she had sufficient rigidity to abide by all of this and three months later she told me she was very happy and that the anxiety had greatly lessened. But I don't find that that's my role very frequently. More and more these days I find myself as a fellow explorer, working with my clients in that way.

Q: And this might go into the realm of transpersonalizing.

Dick: Well, it certainly does, because that's, I think, a legitimate aspect of human experience. I think of myself often as taking hands with the person, holding hands with the person and entering a river and allowing the water to close over our heads. I, in a situation like that, am there as a guide. I offer a certain amount of security. I offer a certain amount of direction, but it's important to realize that person who goes on an exploring expedition as a guide is always himself also an explorer.

Q: And it's important, I assume, that the therapist be comfortable going to those realms himself.

Dick: Yes. If I'm not comfortable I won't venture there. I need to feel sufficiently secure so that I'm confident in what's happening.

Q: And this comes from your own self-exploration, I assume.

Dick: It comes from my own self-exploration. It comes from years of going on such exploring expeditions with other people. Venturing a step further here and a step further there. I'm not much into taking great leaps, great plunges when someone else is involved in the venture with me.

Q: Is it possible that a therapist's own narcissism can enter into the picture and they think they are a spiritual guide?

Dick: Yes. That's sad, but true. We see too much, I think, of a kind of spiritual arrogance. The old spiritual sin of hubris, of imagining that we are the equal to the gods. And when that happens, the exploration becomes a celebration of the therapist's own narcissistic ego.

See also:

Counselor and client