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What does a therapist offer?

A simple sentence can have a large impact, which we see in therapy often, when we offer a client a reflection or ask a simple question.

When I applied for a counselling course we had to partake in an induction/ interview process. One of the tutors floated in and started the session by writing on the board ‘psychotherapy is the practice of love’ and finished with a large arm flourish, a big encouraging smile and asked if we all agreed? As several heads around me nodded emphatically, playing with their long necklaces muttering softly about love, I slowly shook my head and crossed a sensible trouser-ed leg. Hmmm, I seemed to be in the wrong place. I was brave enough to explain my view; ‘love is a personal and complex emotion to define, I don’t think we can promise every client love… and I believe it is a limiting statement, surely therapists offer much more constructive processes than love’. As the curly haired therapist looked mildly amused by my disagreement I added quietly that I did have a science background.

I started the course, with a different tutor.


I read recently in the very good book ‘The Gift of Therapy’ by Irvin Yalom the sentence ‘therapists have made a deep commitment to a life of service’. I have taken this out of context but as I read this I recoiled. Do we love and service a client? If not, what do we offer them; an ear, a connection, insight, support, a supported reflection? Clearly it is not one thing in isolation but something complex.

A simple sentence, which prompted a review of myself as a therapist. We offer ourselves to walk alongside the client through a difficult part of their journey; we offer our entire therapeutic self, but not our entirety.

I am sure many will have their own stance on what they give, therapeutically and of themselves, please let me know what you think, my views are ever developing.

If you have undertaken therapy what do you feel you have been offered? Is it enough?

3 Comments

  1. Sarah

    I agree with you. I’m not sure about the offer of love, think that would scare me away from therapy. I like the concept of sharing steps on a journey though. Interesting..will pop back now and then to see what everyone else thinks 🙂

  2. Cathy Dean

    I think it all depends on your definition of love. I’ve been very struck by Marianne Williamson’s book, A Return to Love, and I wonder if some of the people you encountered during that session were coming from a similar standpoint to her? SHe takes the view that all positive and supportive behaviours come from a position of love, and that love is the only reality in the world (I paraphrase hugely, you understand). SHe’s not talking bout romantic or parentla love but about us all being creatures of love. If you takethat view, then it’s easy to go along with the idea that any kind of therapy is an offering of love.
    As for therapy being a service, well it’s clearly not a product so in narrow busines terms it must be a service – but that doesn’t mean that a therapist is subservient in any way.
    I have to say, I don’t get too hung up on the words but I thinhk it’s important to have the debate every now and then, because otherwise it gets all too easy for people to assume that we all mean the same thing when we use the same words, which is of course not the case!
    Good post Sarah, keep it up 🙂

  3. helenatbranch

    I agree with you Sarah, I think I had that same initial (scared off) reaction. However it is all semantics as you say Cathy, I think we can easily use words in very different ways and it is not until we talk about it that we realise that language can have a very different impact on us all. Which I guess is why it is so important to really step into the client’s world and have a clear understanding of their language and personal meaning.

    Thank You both!

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