Q: As a supervisor, I often find that trainees are overly rule-bound and rigid in the way they approach clients. How can I get them to loosen up and learn to trust their own gut instincts more?
A:It's true that students often feel more secure approaching every clinical encounter strictly "by the book," and are frequently so afraid of making mistakes that they stifle their own capacity for therapeutic intuition and emotional connection with their clients. Sometimes freeing their therapeutic imagination requires bold steps.
I remember one time, years ago, while teaching a graduate course in abnormal psychology, assigning an exercise to several class members in an attempt to help them understand what it feels like to be considered abnormal. I had them board a city bus during the morning rush hour and sit in the back. Then they were to yell out the name of each stop as the bus came to it. Half the students couldn't muster the nerve to complete the assignment, which drove home the point. Those who did follow through quickly found themselves sitting alone on the bus and feeling quite "odd."
Getting students to loosen up and rely on their own instincts—use their own radar systems in therapy—is one of the greatest challenges for any teacher, and requires a willingness to be unorthodox. You must be able to let instinct be your guide,…