When clients come to see me for the first time, I explain to them what therapy is all about. I say something like this:
As I see it, therapy is about change. People come in to see me because they want to move from their current circumstance to a preferred situation. It could be a lack of life-clarity, or an inability to stop an addictive behaviour, or difficulties communicating well with a partner. They want to get better, but somehow find themselves stuck again and again.
I go on to explain how a professional can help them and emphasise that, for change to happen in a sustainable way, clients themselves have to be the ones to enact that change. I will give them an illustration. Something like this:
Imagine that your entire life is a dance. The professional you hire is like a kinesiologist, or a movement therapist. We can see the movements you make in ways that you cannot quite see for yourself. We can see the weaknesses and the strengths in your dance. Our job is to offer you suggestions and even provide the necessary adjustments to help you dance in healthier and more adaptive ways. However, you are the one living your dance, not your therapist. So you need to be the one to physically make the changes happen. You need to own the change process.
Now hearing this, one may ask, what is the point of seeing a professional if I can make changes on my own?
My answer to that is simple: there is no point. You engage a mental health professional only if you need one (or if someone else is urging you to see one). As I see it, my job is to help clients work towards their goals as effectively and efficiently as possible so that they do not need to see me anymore. I am successful when I help my clients get unstuck, make progress towards their change goals, and no longer need me—just like the old adage an apple a day keeps the doctor away. I subscribe to that.
Less experienced therapists and students will sometimes ask me, does it make sense to keep terminating clients? How can we maintain our livelihood if we do that?
My answer to that is also simple: do good work and you will never run out of work to do. If we do our work well, we benefit our clients who will in turn show their family and friends the way to get better. If their friends become really stuck, guess who they will recommend? You. Because you’ve proven yourself to be helpful. And over many years of practice, you will build a reputation as an effective and ethical therapist who does not take advantage of clients, and who clearly understands that clients need to become autonomously healthy as much as possible, without needing a professional crutch to lean on indefinitely. People are healthy when they are able to find their own resources to enact positive change for themselves — which may include your services, for a period of time.
In light of the spirit of An Apple A Day, I have decided to spend a significant portion of my time each week to come up with helpful writings and short media clips. These resources will be helpful for those going through therapy or anyone who is interested in on-going self-improvement and personal development. It is also, for me, a supplement to my monthly radio show on BFM 89.9 with Meera Sivasothy. Given my training and work as a clinical supervisor, some of these resources will also be aimed at helping students and novice therapists.
Why am I doing this? Because I believe it is my job as a mental health professional to help Malaysians improve their understanding of mental health and the various professions associated with it—counselling, clinical psychology, marriage and family therapy, even coaching—and what mental and allied health professionals can do for them. I believe that “an apple a day” will not only help to keep the doctor away (that is, from having to deal with serious illnesses) but these articles and media resources will also help to de-stigmatise mental health in Malaysia and make us more aware of its importance for healthy overall functioning in life and in relationships.
© Johnben Loy, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Johnben Loy and www.johnbenloy.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.