When All Else Fails

When All Else Fails

Stories of Vulnerability and Possibility

By Dan Siegel, Ken Hardy, Lisa Ferentz, Lynn Lyons, Marian Sandmaier, Michele Weiner-Davis

May/June 2017

A strong sense of confidence and order are the usual hallmarks of the demonstration videos shown in clinical workshops or the cases described in books extolling the effectiveness of a particular therapeutic approach. Indeed, hammered into our training is the expectation that if we embrace the theory underlying certain models and learn how to perform the accompanying therapeutic moves, then big changes will reliably take place. Depressed clients will shake off their despair, anxious folks will become calm and centered, couples in perpetual conflict will find a path to peace and harmony.

Okay, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Still, the self-assurance of the expert practitioners who publicly present their work can lead everyday therapists to believe that psychotherapy is a far more predictable craft than it actually is. Just apply technique X to problem Y and positive outcomes will dependably ensue. The reality, of course, is much muddier. Therapists on the ground regularly experience setbacks and discouragement and, if they’re honest with themselves, eventually learn that only one mantra applies to every case—it’s more complicated than that.

The first-person accounts below, originally composed for a storytelling event at this year’s Networker Symposium, invite us into some moments of clinicians confronting the limits of their knowledge and effectiveness, moments in which they have to step out from behind their mask of unruffled confidence.…

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