I was reading something the other day about complementary therapies, and it said that most therapists create a dependent relationship with their clients. Because the client pays the therapist, it’s in the therapist’s interest to keep the client coming back; so instead of curing them they encourage them to have more and more sessions, sometimes for years. The clear implication, if not outright statement, was that therapists are merely exploiting their clients for financial gain by encouraging them to feel that they can’t manage on their own.
As a therapist who encourages clients to come back for more and more sessions, sometimes for years, this stung a bit. If I didn’t have to earn money to keep a roof over my head and my cat in the sort of luxury she would like to be accustomed to, I’d do what I do for nothing. So I thought I’d explore the other side of this ‘dependent’ relationship.
I provide both physical and emotional therapy, and they’re very different. Both can be over very quickly or last for a very long time. With Bowen therapy I have clients who come for one or two treatments and never come back because three years later they’re still pain free. I love treating these clients. I also have clients who come every three or four weeks for years. I love treating them too. I don’t encourage them to come, but if they have a recurring problem, particularly if it’s caused by a lifestyle issue, then I’ll suggest they come back regularly so I can keep them pain free. If they don’t get better I feel guilty, so I’m certainly not going to encourage them to come back if they’re not getting any benefit. And of course some people come for treatments just as if it was a massage or spa day, just because it feels good, and nobody complains about that.
Due to the Covid-19 lockdown there have been two prolonged periods over the past few years where I haven’t been able to treat Bowen clients at all, and that’s been a good opportunity for them to re-evaluate whether they really need to come. Some have decided they don’t, and that’s fine. Others have really missed their treatments and were desperate for me to reopen. That’s fine too. I count myself in this last category; I spent the first 3 months of 2021 tracking the soft tissue disfunction, compensation patterns, and associated pain around my body with interest. It started in my lower back, then moved to my hip, and then to my leg every time I moved my head. Yes, I said head. The body is a weird place. When I was finally able to get a treatment it was as though I’d had a full body transplant.
With counselling it can be slightly different. The modality I use is designed to be long term. It’s normal for clients to come to an ETC practitioner every week for a couple of years or more. It’s long term because it goes very deep, to the roots of the ‘problem’ which might go back to infancy. When you’re potentially unpacking 40, 50, 60 or even 70 years of habits and experiences, it can take a while. I didn’t take up that modality because I wanted to milk my clients financially, but because I wanted to be able to provide the complete solution that will leave them happy and healthy in their own skins possibly for the first time ever. Shorter term solutions can work for a lot of people but equally they can simply ‘paper over the cracks’ by teaching the client to repress their issues rather than resolve them.
That doesn’t mean you have to keep coming for years. It depends on why you came in the first place, how often you come, and how much time and effort you’re able to devote to your issues between sessions. A lot of people feel much better within 4 or 5 sessions. They may decide at that point that they don’t need anything more. I could probably do more for them, but it’s not about me determining where they ‘should’ be, but them being happy with where they are. Other people will keep coming for a couple of years. And some people will come two or three times, and decide it’s not right for them – maybe they aren’t ready to look at their issues yet, maybe it wasn’t what they expected, or maybe they just don’t like me. Odd as it may seem, there are a few people in the world who don’t think I’m a delight.
In fact, counselling clients can easily become dependent and it’s one of the things counsellors are taught to avoid. Because people often share their deepest secrets with their counsellors, and are listened to and understood by them in ways that they often don’t get anywhere else, they can easily feel that the counsellor is their best and only friend. Most people enjoy their sessions. They worry they won’t be able to get through challenging situations without the counsellor to talk to and support them. And it’s rare to find anyone else who is prepared to treat you like the most important person in the world, even for only an hour a week and in exchange for money. I have clients who have declared they’re going to come to see me every week for the rest of their lives. They won’t, of course, but it’s ok for them to think they will just now.
My goal as a counsellor is to leave you a happy, well-balanced person who is comfortable with who they are. If you need me as a crutch or safety net, you’re not a happy and well-balanced person. In the early stages, that’s all right; in fact it’s why you’re here, and you can totally depend on me to support you through that. Over time you should be feeling more able to cope by yourself, not less. If after three years you’re still frightened to go a week without seeing me, I’ve failed you.
Sometimes people ask me how long they’ll need to come and see me for, and they’re sometimes surprised when I say I don’t know. Because I don’t apply a process, it’s not a case of ‘it’s week 3, so today we’ll talk about your mother’. I don’t know whether you’ll need 2 sessions or 10 or 200. But you’ll know, so it’s ok. When you say you don’t need to come again, that means my work is done and that's the best kind of job satisfaction there is.
If you have enjoyed this article, please share it with a friend.
Caeredwen is a counsellor, coach and physical therapist based in Coleford in the Forest of Dean. If you would like to contact her in confidence you can reach her at email@example.com or via her website at www.magichandscalmminds.com.