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Between Therapist and Client: A Co-Evolving Process

My journey and the journeys of my clients are connected, and this has become increasingly real for me over the last years. I am speaking of a small group of clients, people with who I have been walking a path over time. I am going to try and capture some of what I mean in this short piece.

Over the last few years there are a handful of my clients with whom I have been doing long-term work where I can see a process of co-evolution, for want of a better word. A process where I can see that the therapeutic work resonates at a much deeper, or perhaps just more encompassing, level. I am not speaking of the normal resonance that I see as essential for any therapy, or being touched and moved by the client. I am not speaking of either empathy or sympathy.

I am referring to noticing parts or threads of my own life story, being alive and constantly developing, seemingly doing so "in sync" with my client. My own challenges and parts of myself being brought into focus by the conversations with my clients, and in different ways acting as a catalyst for my own journey. It is difficult to capture this in words, but it feels like a a very organic and living process. Two entities in relation to each other where the movement and changes of each becomes increasingly connected with the other.

I can not imagine the wonderful terminology my psychodynamic colleagues will employ to comment on this process, but to be honest, I do not care. I have been doing this work for several decades now and I know there is a difference between the transference and counter-transference process and what I am trying to describe here. I am not speaking of the simple process of having your own internal world etc being triggered by the work with a client.

This is about the relationship, and even though there are clear roles and boundaries, we are still human beings connecting over time as travellers. And the idea that we will not both be changed by the journey and the companionship, even though we may have different roles on this journey, does not make sense.

Meaningful relationships change us. After all, important and meaningful relationships provide the formative blueprints that stay with us throughout life. Traumatic relationships long after we have grown up can change us substantially, as can traumatic experiences. So relationships that provide companionship will change us, both of us.

And this for me is the greatest gift of therapy. Not the short-term work of supporting someone through a particular rough spot or crisis, but the more enduring relationships where we become increasingly two human beings who connect in the moment. And this connection over time gives rise to this process of changing together, being both the catalyst and response to each other.

As human beings we are constantly triggering changes and adaptations in each other, and the more enduring the relationship, the more extensive these changes are. And in working with our clients we should expect the same. No one ever taught me this as a student. But to be honest, I probably wouldn't get it even if they tried. Because I believe it takes having done your own work and knowing where you end and the client begins. It means understanding what of the stuff that arises in working with people is your own stuff and where that stuff comes from.

I am not saying this to come across as arrogant about my own journey, but rather my own awareness that I would not have been able to write this 10 years ago. There was too much in the way. There were too many parts of myself that I have not even met yet, too much of my own formative experiences I had no true connection with.

Can we have this with every client that walks into our office. I don't know, but I doubt it. But maybe that is just me. Just like I am not close to everyone in my life I will not have the same closeness or connection to all my clients. I think it is a rare experience, but something that extends beyond the framework of just therapist and client. I am deeply grateful for the few clients who have played such a critical role in my own journey. It is a gift.


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