Here are things therapists can do to encourage clients to decide their best option is going through the process of differentiation and self-validation:
- Use collaborative confrontation to wake people up by exposing their games and encouraging their best to come out.
- Work quickly. Speed creates hope, and a brisk pace yields greater traction with clients.
- Use honesty to harness clients’ innate desire for intimacy and partnership. We can’t be safe and secure while we hide, because our partner really doesn’t know us. When we’re finally known, we can truly relax. Difficult truth-telling makes couples feel productively and profoundly connected.
- Foster a sense of unilateral responsibility and differentiation to enhance people’s collaborative alliances.
Whether unwittingly or by design, therapists co-construct how clients function, feel, and look, to such a profound degree many of us can’t imagine. We lose sight of how we co-construct clients in ways that support our favorite theories. Attachment therapists don’t really believe they are co-constructing abandonment fears: they believe they’re treating it. I readily concede differentiation-based therapy is co-construction too.
Since therapists always co-construct clients, do it well. Co-construct clients as resilient and resourceful, capable of deliberate malevolence as well as knowing right from wrong, strong enough to acknowledge their failings, to act with integrity, and to be worthy of respect. Don’t reduce them to well-intended wounded children, who do misguided things out of overwhelming insecurities and fears of facing the world on their own. To support this approach to therapy, it’s important to build in signposts that signal clients that their experience with me will differ from conventional therapy. To start with, I don’t try to convince clients that my office is a “safe place.” Instead, my office, I’m clear, is “a place where change happens.” Of course, the first rule of therapy is “Do no harm.” But ineffective therapy isn’t harmless, and systematically underestimating clients’ abilities, whitewashing darker motives, and squandering clients’ time, money, and patience isn’t a safe clinical stance. However radical my approach may seem from the perspective of attachment-based, conventional psychotherapy, I’d propose another perspective: there’s nothing conservative about treatment that underestimates people’s ability to confront difficult truths and ignores their vast potential to face up to the challenge of transforming their relationships and their lives.
David Schnarch, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, certified sex therapist, and director of the Crucible Institute in Evergreen Colorado. He’s the author of Constructing the Sexual Crucible and the international bestseller Passionate Marriage, and recipient of the AAMFT 2011 Outstanding Contribution to Marriage & Family Therapy Award. His latest book, Intimacy & Desire, was just released in paperback and eBook. Contact: service@CrucibleInstitute.com.
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