Often a prospective client will ask me what type of psychotherapy I practice. My answer is always the same: talk therapy. There are these days many different types of therapy with many different acronyms (it is sometimes difficult to keep up with the latest practices). So it feels a little strange and old-fashioned to be a practioner of what Freud, only a hundred years ago or so, called the “talking cure.” What I do with my clients is just that: we talk. But I don’t think it is just talking; I think it is in fact an intimate act.
From time to time I like to think about what happens in therapy, what makes for healing and change to take place. Just today I was talking to a client about that. Here was some of what we talked about.
A major goal of talk therapy is to assist the client in giving words to his feelings. I think it is one of the fundamental aspects of being a human that we have such a sophisticated language and, thus, the ability to express our inner world – our thoughts, feelings, obsessions, preoccupations – with words. By expressing himself, the client gains greater access to his feelings and also shares his internal experience with another human being. Through words we give another person access into our inner life.
This is a very intimate act. What was previous inchoate, internal – our feelings, our thoughts – is through words made explicit and external. As my client and I discussed today, to share what was so internal and private is a vulnerable act. It takes courage to open one’s self in this way to another. Often, clients come to therapy because of some prior wounding, often incurred in childhood, with intimacy and vulnerability. Clients, by the time they are adults, have perfected finely tuned defense mechanism to prevent just this experience of being vulnerable and possibly hurt or rejected. So when a client endeavors to tell me his thoughts or feelings, he is courageously opening himself in hopes of a different experience. When therapy works, the client not only has the experience of being understood and cared about, but also having been vulnerable and open.
In this way, the client better knows himself and is better known in the world. So that’s what I do with my clients – we talk. And in the process, we share great intimacy.