When therapy goes wrong, it’s typically because we’ve entered our clients’ trance, joining them in their myopic misery. Once there, our job is to break the spell, broaden the vision, and open ourselves to possibilities outside the tunnel.
We’ve all had moments, sometimes entire cases, when the therapy seems stuck, our wheels spinning in the mud, unable to get any traction. Nothing we say breaks through the client’s dogged negativity, convinces her to take even a small step forward, or gets her to look more directly at her own self-destructive behavior. At these times, the tightness in our bodies can lead to thoughts like “Is this why I went through years of graduate school? Maybe I should get a job as a Walmart greeter!”
When clients get immersed in their problem, they often suffer from a kind of tunnel vision, focused on a small range of experiences, with their bad feelings taking center stage. It’s a state that resembles a hypnotic trance: a limited, intense, internal focus of attention. When therapy gets stuck, one way of moving it forward can be to think of clients as being in a troublesome trance induced by parents, caregivers, and difficult life experiences. They’re trapped in what Buddhists call maya, the world of illusion.
When therapy goes wrong, it’s typically because we’ve entered our clients’ trances with them, joining them in their myopic misery. In this mutually reinforcing state, neither client nor therapist can see beyond the…