My Therapeutic Orientation
“What is your therapeutic orientation?” This is a question I am asked frequently by both clients and colleagues. While there is no simple answer, I will address the question here given its importance when choosing a clinician and building a trusted therapeutic relationship.
A Mixed Bag
The first thing I will say about my therapeutic orientation is that I don’t have one! My perspectives, tools, and interventions all emerge out of a wide variety of psychological orientations, philosophical schools of thought, and spiritual principles. I have yet to find the proper title for such a vast mixture of influences.
In my field, it is becoming increasingly popular to draw from many sources when working with clients, and I am no different. This diversified approach is often labeled “eclectic,” but I feel that this term doesn’t do it justice. In our society where each person is a unique world unto themselves, I find that a comprehensive methodology is common-sensical as well as the most embracing of individual differences. However, it is up to each clinician to decide which combination of sources to include in one’s work.
The list of psychotherapeutic modalities on my GTSD profile page is an accurate indication of the specific methods that I pull from, but the list is not exhaustive; I also use a number of tools from other modalities not mentioned. Every modality has its strengths and weaknesses; each one is valuable yet incomplete. Overall, I feel it is important to have a well-rounded set of skills that can be used to access and heal the four main aspects of our being: the body, mind, heart, and soul.
I certainly rely on evidence-based methods, but I also pull from traditions that seem equally as effective yet may be more difficult to quantify and measure as to their impact. That’s part of the nature of working with unseen forces such as thoughts, emotions, will power, energy, and spirit. There’s no perfect way to track changes or measure them objectively, so I rely on subjective reporting most often. The client’s felt-sense of whether their therapy is helpful is the most important measurement.
I would also classify my style as being present-focused, yet there may be times when delving into the past is useful to dissolve current problems. Being natural, grounded, and in flow is critical for the enjoyment and fulfillment of life, and this can only happen if we are focused on the here-and-now. My hope is that by embodying this presence with others, they may absorb some of that ability to peacefully flow with life too.
Finally, I feel that my fundamental stance is person-centered, meaning that I recognize each client as an autonomous, intelligent human being with a rich and complex inner life rather than just a problem that needs fixing with a standardized protocol. That being said, sometimes it’s important to focus on the problem directly, identify a formal diagnosis, or use a standard set of techniques.
In summary, the methods I utilize depend on who is sitting across from me and what their specific needs are. I demonstrate this elusive balance by acknowledging our individual differences within the framework of our common humanity.
If there is one “method” I can truly state as my therapeutic orientation it would be intuition. This means that I use my aware presence, common sense, life experience, education, and training all at once. After all, I am the tool that my client is paying for, and my very being is my offering.
Each client is different, each session is new, and each moment is full of potential. Recognizing this, I clean my slate each time we sit together and open myself to whatever is needed in that moment. This doesn’t mean I forget legal or ethical standards, details of a client’s story, or the goals we are working towards. On the contrary, I always keep these in mind. But more importantly, I remain attentive, genuine, empathic, and attuned to the reality of the moment. This allows me to search my inner knowing for how to authentically help and guide the person(s) in front of me, or for which tool to use at any given moment. I trust that whatever arises – within me, my clients, and the space between us – is the right thing to focus on, and I can confidently state that most often it seems my intuitive sensing hits the mark.
Nondual psychotherapist and spiritual author, Dorothy Hunt, summed up my way of being a therapist perfectly: “The techniques and theories you may learn are like arrows in your quiver. What may shift is that you allow the deep wisdom and intelligence of your true nature to choose which ones, if any, to apply in any given moment. Some can be useful; others may seem totally out of place, depending on the situation. We learn to listen to the deeper dimensions of our Being in our work.” I believe that most therapists, assuming they have had enough experience working with clients, tend toward this way of being as well but may not be able to articulate it in the same way.
Practicing therapy often feels like a dance, a delicate collaboration with the person I am assisting, and a balancing act of internal knowing. In the words of Irvin Yalom, founder of Existential Psychotherapy, I feel as though I am a “fellow traveler” with my clients on the journey of life. Being a therapist is dynamic, mysterious, ever-new, challenging, and deeply rewarding. It gives me great joy knowing that I am helping others live their dreams, clean their psyches, and discover their personal truths. And as I offer my services to others, I feel at the same time that I am being thoroughly aided and transformed as well.