Updated: Feb 28
Acceptance as a Process- A Therapist’s True Struggle
I am just going to put it out there. I am a therapist, and I am not always accepting or nonjudgmental of everyone. Try as I might, there are times when I am judgmental of others (like the driver that cut me off this morning). This is something that is not easy to say being a therapist, knowing that there is a lot of pressure for me to be accepting of all people at all times. I am beginning to realize more and more that acceptance of all people at all times is not only impossible, but that I am being dishonest and disingenuous when I try to be that way.
Acceptance is something I strive for- to accept others for who they are (i.e., their true self). This is different than accepting their behavior or justifying their behavior. I can be accepting of the person, but disagree with the behavior or mechanism they are using to get their need met. This is an important distinction when working in the field of psychotherapy. I often have clients with lifestyles very different than my own- no better or worse than mine- and I openly accept and love them for who they are.
She should have known she would get hurt again.
Why does he stay with someone that is not good enough for him?
If he/she would only learn to (fill in the blank) then their life would be so much better.
Acknowledging these thoughts for what they are (i.e., judgement) takes courage. It means that I am acknowledging the fact that I still have some growing to do- that my own work is not done. As a therapist, it means that I have to work harder on setting aside my own morals and beliefs, and working harder to connect to my client and fully hear and experience their point of view. When I am able to recognize them as a fellow imperfect human being that struggles with the same themes that I do (acceptance, meaninglessness, significance, isolation), then I am better able to connect with them and accept them for who they are right now, in this very moment.
While the thoughts of judgement above may come from good intentions, they are hurtful to others. When I am imposing my beliefs or choices on others, I am limiting or taking away from their own actualizing potential and limiting that person. I am in fact working in the opposite direction than what is desired. When I think I know the best outcome and push others in that direction, I am taking away their ability to think and act for themselves and fully gain awareness to their experiences free of external motivations.
Often I find it is helpful to check in with myself during a session. Am I drifting and finding that I want the client to act a certain way? Am I being judgmental of the way they handled a certain situation? When these thoughts arise in me, I find it most helpful to share them with the client. Transparency is key; it forces one to be honest and genuine.
Most therapists do not work this way. They refrain from personal disclosure and use some type of questioning or interviewing techniques to direct the client towards a predetermined desired outcome. In a sense they are molding the client into what the therapist finds acceptable or good. It gives the therapist more control and security to lead the sessions this way, and sets them apart as the expert. This is desirable by most therapists over a more non-directive approach because it is more controllable, more predictable.
Letting the client lead takes faith. Faith in human nature, and that people will find their own path if given the opportunity. When I am able to fully accept them as a person regardless of their behaviors, they can begin to accept all aspects of themselves and become more sufficient, self-enhancing, and prosocial.
I like to phrase it this way: my clients don’t need me; they just need themselves. If I can help them be themselves, they will find the answers they are looking for and will become all of who they are meant to be.
No diagnosing, no labeling, no directing. Just being.
Laura McLaughlin is the Founder and Owner of HeadFirst Counseling. Laura works with children, teens, and adults to help them learn to love and accept themselves by letting go of the external conditions that hold them back. Read more about Laura and HeadFirst Counseling at www.headfirstdallas.com
Laura can be contacted by calling the HeadFirst Office at (469) 665-9416.