Wednesday, 28 June 2017

On Guilt

As emotions go, guilt is one of the most useless ones.  It serves a minimal positive function and can serve to really ruin a person's day and render them foolish.  Unlike some emotions, guilt is not time dependent - it doesn't fade over time.  It lurks.

Guilt can also jump time.  Things can happen during the course of life that are all quite normal, then something happens to change our perceptions and suddenly we can remember something that previously appeared innocuous to us, but with our newfound perspective, we can feel guilty about it.

And we can feel guilty about things we have done, we can feel guilty about things we didn't do, but wish we had, and of course, we can feel guilty for nothing at all.  We don't have to have done something or omitted to do something in order to feel guilty.  Others can make us feel guilty through their expectations of us.  Expectations can lead to disappointment, and their feeling of disappointment can lead to our feeling of guilt.  It's funny how some emotions link up to others in a  certain sequence and logical order.

It's like this:

   You expect something of me.
   I don't deliver.
   You are disappointed in me.
   I feel guilty about that.

But was the expectation fair in the first place?  I have long observed that high expectations of a person can seriously undermine them and erode their self-confidence.  After all, when the person does the action, are they doing for themselves, or doing it because it is what is expected of them?

Now, by "the action" this might be a behaviour, i.e. something they do, or an identity, i.e. something they are.

Here's an example I've witnessed recently.  An intelligent young woman from a privileged background is at that junction in life where study ends and either further education is undertaken, or a career is selected.  She is bright, she is articulate, she has potential.

The great weight of unspoken pressure is there for her to be an achiever.  The university brochures are scanned through, the careers advisor is attended, wise words from family elders are spoken.

But the truth is she doesn't want any of that.  She wants to get married, have children, be a housewife.

But that doesn't fit with the image of the potential that has been ascribed to her.  After all, she is so young, it would be a shame to throw it all away...

This is an identity conflict.  So in order to avoid the disappointment of others, this young woman is going through all the motions of university application.  Half-hearted efforts that repeatedly result in failure, late appointments, accidental absences and continual low-level illnesses and afflictions.

Everyone is asking, "What is wrong with Polly?"

The obvious is just too elusive.  There is nothing wrong with Polly.  The elephant in the room goes unnoticed though.

So we get:

   You expect something of me.
   I fail to deliver.
   You are disappointed in me.
   My maladies explain why I failed so that your erroneous perception of me never has to be corrected.
   No one has to feel guilty any more.

As a clinician who spends many hours a week working with complex social and family issues, I see so many relationship difficulties that arise from the attempts to avoid guilt.  People deceive, they lie, they convince themselves it is for the best.  White lies.  Deception in the other persons best interests.

Guilt doesn't make people good people, it makes them act like irrational fools and it makes them do stupid stuff.  As a professional change worker, I have long held the view that guilt does not facilitate change - in fact, it does the exact opposite, it inhibits it.  I shall explain my reasoning for this.

Guilty people are always apologising and trying to make amends, but they continue doing the same stuff.  If guilt was effective at creating change, why do they have to keep apologising?

Primarily it is because of time orientation.  Guilt is about the past - it is a retrospective emotion.  For example, we don't feel guilty about things that have not happened or are yet to happen.  That emotion is called anxiety and anxiety is a prospective emotion.

So, guilt is about what has been, anxiety is about what is to come.

You cannot change what has been.  Small point, I know, but worth knowing.

Now, it isn't entirely uncommon for individuals to punish others by making them feel guilty.  Last year I had a client whom I unceremoniously ejected from the session owing to his unsavoury behaviour.  He yelled, then he texted, then he emailed the threats of suicide telling me to think about how awful I'd feel if he killed himself.  The ultimate blackmail - do as I say, or I'll kill myself, then see how you feel.

This isn't a good strategy.  You see if we try to motivate a person with guilt, look at the situation the guilt-laden person is now in - the actions they now undertake are orientated in order to lessen their feeling of guilt, not necessarily to change any prospective behaviours.

Let me give you an easy example.  Imagine I have an unpleasant habit of repeatedly jabbing you in the face with my left thumb.  You tell me how much you dislike this behaviour and load me up with some guilt.  I may well now look to relieve myself of this guilt by making amends for what I have done.  But is this necessarily going to change what I am going to do in the future?  Possibly, but from experience, probably not.

I might "make amends" for what has been, but once I am free from the guilt, the chances are that I will carry on as before until I am loaded up with guilt again.  And so the process is repeated.

Thus to summarise the point: a guilty person usually seeks to free themselves from their guilt, not necessarily to change their behaviour, perception of you or their future conduct.  Once they are free from guilt, everything is reset to the way it was before the offence was raised.

It looks like this:

   I poke you in the face.
   You tell me how bad this is.
   I feel guilty and apologise.
   You accept the apology and we shake hands.
   I feel better and I poke you in the face again.

So, in order to get a person to change, we need to get them to drop their guilt as a strategy for making things better.  Their guilt is has nothing to do with behavioural change, and behavioural change is the better outcome.

It's worth mentioning here - if you are a person who feels a sense of satisfaction from making another person feel guilty, please stop doing this.  The people who do this are both professional victims and bullies.  As with my client example earlier, by using the threat of suicide he aims to turn me into his puppet, something completely under his control.  I have known many relationships between people that are controlled this way.  The threat is never actually made explicit, but rather it is implied and it becomes yet another elephant in an increasingly crowded room.  People start to feel suffocated but cannot leave for fear of what might happen if they do.

When guilt creeps into a relationship, silent and not so silent control games begin to emerge.  Rules get made, rules get broken.  Long silences - silent rows that can last for hours become commonplace, issues get skirted around and no one feels all that good any more.  If the relationship continues, homeostasis can be found when the maladies begin - insomnia, headaches, migraines, chronic fatigue, tired all the time syndrome, easy explanations, tempers and angers (often directed outside of the relationship - maybe towards politicians, maybe towards the neighbours or the spotty guy in the DIY store).  Blood pressure can rise, serotonin levels can fall and sooner or later diagnosable physical symptoms emerge.

A persistent low level of background guilt can be devastating the quality of life.  As trainees in Integral Eye Movement Therapy will be aware, there is an intimate relationship between guilt, worry and anger ( "The Three Pillars" model).

   Persistent guilt is a trigger for worry.
   Worry is a trigger for anger.
   Anger is a trigger for guilt.
   And around and around it goes.

If this pattern continues for any length of time, it can lead to a serious state of depression.  Of course, a state of depression is just perfect for feeling guilty, for feeling anxious and for getting angry.

People caught in this cycle are often a nightmare to be around, their behaviour affects other people, which of course, in turn, leads to yet more guilt.

In my book, The Rainbow Machine, I describe the behaviours common to Right Man Syndrome what was interesting was the effect this chapter would have.  I was inundated with emails and messages from people who thought either that

1. I was describing them or 2. describing someone they knew.

A number of clinicians contacted me to describe their relief at my response to dealing with Right Man Syndrome (get them out the door as quickly as possible and refer them to a therapist you don't like!).  This enabled me to gather a lot more data and has led me to two simple conclusions.

Right Man Syndrome sufferers feel guilt stronger than other people and are more negatively affected by it.

Right Man Syndrome is a strategy that develops primarily to avoid feeling guilt.

So, in summary...

When things go wrong and guilt arises, the behaviours that emerge will lean towards resolving this guilt, not at changing their future behaviours.

The result of this is a situational and relationship reset where everything gets put back to what it was before the upset.  Chances are high that the issue will re-emerge later on.  Repeatedly.

Absolution of guilt is not change.  What changes is the person's perception on what has been, not what will be.

Thus, resolution of guilt is only the first, and let's face it, the least important aspect of creating change.  Guilt is resolved only in order to permit the prospective change to begin.

What is frustrating for me, as a change worker, is knowing just how easy and quickly guilt can be resolved.  Usually, within a few minutes an entire lifetime of guilt can be resolved using the appropriate processes, but what is frustrating is that guilty people are usually quite defensive and are keen to enter into a state of denial when the subject is raised.  For so many people, guilt is equal to blame, and blame is bad and so is best avoided.  Cue:  the beginnings of Right Man Syndrome, where being right is more important than being happy.

The other frustration is then getting the guilt-laden person to actually do the process.  So many people seem content to simply get an intellectual understanding of the resolution processes but they never actually try them out.

A particular problem with guilt resolution can arise though.  The person who feels guilty requires the offended party to also change - "She must accept my apology!"

But why?

If I poke you in the face and then feel terrible about that, why should you accept my apology?  It is as though because I feel bad, then you have to accept me.  By feeling bad and offering an apology, I now make you responsible for my emotional welfare.

So not only have I jammed my thumb into your face, but I now hold you responsible for how bad I feel about it!

And, to top it off, if you don't accept my apology,  this will make you the bad person.

   I poke you in the face.  I apologise.
   Wounded, you don't accept the apology.
   Well, screw you.  Let me now tell you why you get poked in the face by people like me.

Power struggles get played out frequently around issues of guilt.

So, in resolution for guilt, it is important for the guilty party to give up the need for others to either understand or to change.  The guilt is theirs, and theirs alone.

But it isn't a cross to bear. No. So many guilty people like to romanticise their suffering this way.

As I like to say to these clients, "Who you think you are? Jesus?" and then remind them that they are just not that important.  They are not important enough to martyr themselves, but they do have a responsibility to change and change they shall.

It isn't a cross to bear.  It is something to be put down.  Given up.  Dropped.

Once they have done this, THEN they can begin to do the business of putting things right.

I remind clients that their guilt is about them and has nothing to do with the other person.  Here's a demonstration of how to do this.

Ask the client:  "How strong is this guilt that you experience, on a score out of 10, with 10 being as strong as it can be?"
Ask the client:  "And how familiar is this feeling of guilt?"
Ask the client:  "And when is the first time that you can remember feeling this guilt feeling…now it may not be the first time you ever felt it, but rather is the first time that you can remember now?"  (Ref:  Integral Eye Movement Therapy)

Nearly every time, the feeling pre-dates the situation that is reported to be the presenting problem.  If you felt this same feeling before the current situation, then this situation has little to do with how you feel.  It is the earlier situation that taught you to feel this way.

Guilt resolution processes feature in a number of areas of my work.  Integral Eye Movement Therapy has simple enough processes that virtually anyone can use, and I have a more comprehensive model developed within the Metaphors of Movement work. 

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Me, Myself and I

Until recently I lived at the back of the former home of J.M Barrie, author of Peter Pan, by the sea in Rustington, West Sussex. I now live about 150 meters down the road closer to the sea.

We have two pet seagulls that live with us, they were here before us and came with the house. Whenever I give them fresh fish (usually the leftovers after we've been out mackerel fishing) they bring us presents of bundles of twigs and hay.

As a teenager, my hobby was breeding tropical fish, primarily Mbuna cichlids from Lake Malawi and amongst other awards I once won a regional show with a guppy that I had selectively bred to have a blue sheen and an elongated upper tail fin.  Owing to space and overseas work commitments, my fish collection is currently reduced to a tropical brackish water aquaria and some goldfish.

I started studying the Qabalah and the Western esoteric system at age 18 and have been a small-time member of various lodges and orders ever since.

As a nurse, I worked in a number of clinical areas including casualty, cardiothoracic surgery, neurosurgery and neurology.  As an occupational health advisor, I worked in the automotive industry, aviation hydraulics, and education.  I once worked as a consultant to a bakery, which lasted a few days.  I raised a number of serious issues about health and safety which culminated in the employees staging a walk out and a senior manager threatening to "do" me in the car park. I had to hide in the office for a couple of hours before being able to sneak out unassaulted.

In my early 20's I briefly worked as a clinical researcher (I forget the exact title, but it was probably "assistant") It was the single most stressful time of my life and everything I touched either broke, fell over, spilled or went missing.  I learned years later that the entire clinical research team celebrated when I resigned in tears after six months.

Many times when travelling I have attended an accident or heart attack victim. Two of the most recent resuscitations were one on a transatlantic flight and another at London Victoria station.

Both survived.

I am usually disappointed at how unwilling people are to offer assistance but always impressed and relieved with how amazing and generous people are when they are actively directed to help. Two years ago I also assisted at the resuscitation of a drowning casualty near to where we live. Sadly he didn't make it.

I have been a motorcyclist since I was 16 and only learned to drive a car a few years ago.  My first motorbike was a Yamaha DT50 and my last motorcycle was a Suzuki Bandit 600.

I have never attended a football match, cricket match or any other form of sports event.  I have no intention of ever doing so. Apparently, I do not possess a sports gene or a dance gene.

My favourite authors of fiction are Iain Banks, James Herbert and Paulo Coalho.  My favourite ever book is, "Illusions" by Richard Bach but I didn't enjoy his others.

I often work with clients via Skype.

Despite a popular rumour to the contrary, I have never had the police turn up at a workshop nor have I ever hit an attendee with a chair (but I confess to having been tempted once or twice).

This story originates from two things - I once punched a freak of an assistant-therapist at an event where I was refused permission to leave the room because he felt that I was "running away from my feelings". I was attempting to assist a demo subject to leave the room who was being ordered to reveal details of a rape to the group, she declined and was coerced into continuing with the demonstration.

At the exit, the brainwashed assistant stood blocking my way whilst a bunch of other assistants moved in to "love-hug" me.  That part happened about 20 years ago.  I do not know where the origin of the police part of the story comes from, but I am aware of the person who likes to tell that story at his NLP practice group in the UK.  Curiously, this same person also likes to tell people that he reviewed and edited my book, "The Rainbow Machine."  He didn't.

The three films I least enjoyed were The Shawshank Redemption, Flightplan and Lord of the Rings.  Lord of the Rings is the only film I didn't bother staying 'til the end for.  Oh, and Star Wars.  Truly dreadful.

Whilst being a big fan of Robert Anton Wilson, I thought the Illuminatus Trilogy was dreadful. This small detail has seen me unfriended by some RAW obsessives.

For my birthday last year, I was given some baby Giant African Snails (they are now enormous) and for my 40th, an AK47.  Laura knows me well.

No matter what some people continue to claim, I have never taken an NLP training in Ireland and misbehaved whilst doing it. Why this story persists I do not understand.

I have been keeping and training rats for several years.  The last two I had, Minni and Mika, were very affectionate female dumbo rats whose favourite food was pasta and when they tired of following me about the apartment, they tend to nest down in the stationary cupboard.  I have lost count of how many times i have had people tell me that they don't like rats because of their tails.

My favourite book as a child was, "The Amateur Naturalist" by Gerald Durrell.

The strangest thing that ever happened to me occurred when I visited a monastery high up in the hills in north east India and without me realising was mistaken for  visiting dignitary.  Like a fool, I interpreted all the meets and greets merely as exceptional hospitality shown to an overseas visitor and went along with it.  The moment I was ushered onto a podium in very large and busy conference room the misunderstanding became apparent to all.

I make model aeroplanes.

I like to study all sorts of things and have taken courses and studies in philosophy, fungi, magic/illusions, stand up comedy, self-defence, car mechanics, herbalism, waterskiing, astronomy, and firearms.  If I am ever missing, look for me at the nearest rocky beach with tidal rock pools, I can spend days there and not notice the time passing.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Tea or Coffee?

The “tea or coffee” bind is a very useful predictor for how well a session may go.  Whilst I use an offer of a hot beverage, any bind of alternative choices will do.

Here is how it works.  When the client arrives I quickly show them in, point out where the toilet is (many have travelled far) and offer “Tea of coffee?”

This is a bind of comparable choice.  I have not asked, “Would you like a drink?” which is a simple “yes or no” question.  The bind is to accepting a drink, and the choice is either tea or coffee.

Here are the possible answers that a person might give.

  1. Tea
  2. Coffee
  3. Neither thanks
  4. No thanks
  5. Oh, I’ll just have a glass of water, please
  6. Do you have herbal tea?
  7. I’ll have whatever you are having

This might sound a bit daft, but the response that is given can be a remarkable predictor on how well the client session is going to go.  The person who accepts either tea or coffee will invariably be co-operative and engaging in the therapeutic process.  This doesn’t mean that they will be easy to “cure”, but certainly will be easy to work with towards that “cure”.

Not everyone drinks tea or coffee, and some, having travelled far and arrived early, may have just come from the café around the corner, but don’t want to reject what is offered.  These are the people who will say something along the lines of, “Oh, I’ll just have a glass of water, thanks.”

Independent thinkers will request an alternative such as “herbal tea.”  Nearly always, these are the clients who come to learn rather than be “therapised”, and will actively ask questions, discuss, argue and apply what they learn to themselves.

The people who say, “Oh, I’ll have whatever you are having” have usually come to be therapised and look to be led and directed in their responses.

The client who rejects the offer outright will nearly always be the “difficult” client.  Difficulties emerge in their response sets along the lines of:
  • Most answers to most questions begin with “I don’t know…”
  • When pressed, the client will just sit there silently, as though in deep inner contemplation, and then eventually look up and ask, “What was the question?”
  • Yes, but…” is a common expression for them
  • What if…” is their preferred style of questioning (“What if…” is a way of generating a counterexample to any generalisation that is created)
  • Any responses that are given tend to be tangential (basically, they don’t answer the question)
  • The client will tend to focus on the performance of their therapists, past and present and offer critical reviews on these performances.  They can be very good at not talking about themselves but preferring to discuss the behaviours of others.
  • The client will expect the therapist to “fix” them without their own active engagement in any process.  This is what my colleague Nick Kemp refers to as “The Magic Wand Mind Set.”

In younger and more naïve times, I would attempt to do “therapy” in the face of all these behaviours.

It rarely went well.  Now, I will actively address these behaviours – address what is happening in the here and now, what is right in front of you.

In my book, “The Rainbow Machine” I give the example of the man with “low self-esteem” who thought he was unlikeable (he was pretty much right about that).  What his previous counsellor had missed, or ignored, this man’s ongoing behaviours, his dress sense, his level of hygiene, his hair cut (all of which were appalling) and instead chose to focus on the therapeutic goal of raising this unfortunate man’s self-esteem.

Try this in your next client session.  Offer tea or coffee.  If the client rejects it, do this.  Say, “It’s not a choice.  Do you want tea or coffee?” and do this dead-pan, don’t be tempted to break the emerging tension.  This is difficult to do at first, as it goes against what so many of us do naturally.  I like to allow the tension to rise a little and watch how the client handles this.

Either the client will acquiesce, or a standoff will emerge.  The standoff takes as long as it takes.  Wherever possible, I like to get the stand off out of the way before the session begins proper.  It makes things much easier that way.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Problem clients

I’ve been thinking about problem clients recently, as it is something I get asked about quite often by fellow therapists, especially those just starting out.  “How do you deal with problem clients?” is a common question so I thought I’d write it up as a blog entry so I have something to refer people to in the future.

The first thing to consider is just what is a problem client.  “Problem to whom, specifically?” is an important consideration point.

We need to differentiate between those clients who, despite all the help they are offered, fail to change, and those clients who are a royal pain-in-the-ass for other reasons.

It is common, especially amongst brief therapists, to view clients who fail to change, or who reject our methods, or argue with us as being a “problem” – i.e. they do not fit into the models of understanding of the therapist and thus not only damage our own fragile ego states, but also bugger up our success rates (or at least the success rates that we claim!)

My advice in these situations is that maybe the therapist ought to change their view on things a little.

Maybe from the client’s point of view, the therapist is a problem therapist, i.e. inexperienced, uncertain, lacking the relevant skill base and so on.

Or maybe, the client simply isn’t going to change, because that is just how they are.  NLPers hate that – “Everyone can be changed!” is something they so often like to claim.  I disagree.  I have met many people that are unlikely, or indeed are unwilling, to change their behaviour despite all the therapy, training and change work in the world.

I don’t see these situations as a problem, it is mainly a function of time.  The majority of people do change over time, clients as well as therapists.  And of course, experience can only be gained with time.  I tend to be very wary of people who like to hold someone’s lack of age and lack of experience against them.  I think it is a way of maintaining a fragile status position over other people.  I know a number of trainers who do this, and it isn’t a nice thing to do.  

Now, I am not talking about the classic, “You are not what we are looking for, we really require someone with more experience, maybe come back in a year or two” type of thing.  But I am talking about the, “You weren’t there back in 1984, you young whipper-snapper, so don’t try and tell me that….” Where the speaker uses the person’s age and experience level as a direct criticism of the person.  Age and experience are a function of time (and effort) and to a large degree are outside of the control of the person, so isn’t something that they can do much about.

For some difficult clients, much of the difficulty may result from simply a lack of experience.  Young, recently affected schizophrenics can have a very hard time in understanding and dealing with their symptoms.  They can become very confused, frightened and helpless quite easily.  Older, more experienced schizophrenics handle things quite differently, primarily owing to their level of experience.  This is true for so many psychological problems and conditions.

Thus, for me, a problem client is not a person who fails to conform to the therapist’s wishes and intents.

Here is a little list of things I see as a problem:

  • Incessant midnight phone calls
  • Mad or abusive text messages/answer phone messages
  • Stalking
  • Turning up on the doorstep outside of appointment times
  • Unwarranted/inappropriate/nuisance complaints
  • Blaming the therapist for their own behaviours, alcohol/drug consumption etc.
  • Threats of violence, threats against property

Given the client group that I tend to work with, and the volume of clients I tend to see, I average one ‘serious’ problem a year and three lesser issues per year also.  These are rarely “serious” in a life-threatening kind of way but can prove very problematic.  Over the years I have developed a number of strategies which prove effective in both minimising the number of problems but also dealing with them when they arrive.

Without any shadow of a doubt, the clients that generate the most problems are the drinkers/alcoholics.

Some will arrive slightly edgy and act as if they are simply looking for a reason to take offence at something I do or say.  I wondered if this was just me – after all, I’m not exactly known for my love-and-light approach to change work – but I have seen exactly the same behaviours in support groups and other change work sessions I have observed.  The pattern though is consistent.  The drinker who behaves in this way is the drinker who is not interested in giving up alcohol, but rather wishes to “control their drinking” - abstinence is not an acceptable outcome for them.  Now, others may well disagree, but personally I think getting a problem drinker to a position of “controlled drinking” is not much different from trying getting a heroin addict to a position of “controlled heroin use.”

Now, at the first point of contact (usually email/’phone) I will put this proposition to the client with the drink problem, and the potential client who rejects this and demands that they get a service which enables them to have “controlled drinking” is not accepted as a client.  I wish them luck and move them on.  This reduced the number of problems significantly.  If I am not connected to the outcome that the client requests and the client is not willing to reconsider their outcome, then clearly it is foolish for me to try and work with them – I am the wrong therapist for them.

Another thing that reduces significantly the number of problems is demanding that the assessment form be filled in correctly.  The forms that get returned to me with only token information in the form of one-word-answers and no real information get rejected.  The client is sent the form back and asked to fill it in fully and correctly.  It interests me how one or two people will refuse to do this and simply either get angry or take an “Oh, I can’t be bothered, forget it” type of attitude.  It is good to know this early on. Those clients do not get an appointment.

And another much less common thing is how many people do not put their address or contact details on the form.  Everything else gets filled in well, but not these parts.  Small detail, but important.  OK, I already have their details because I have sent them the form in the first place, but still, I send the form back asking for the form to be completed.

Most people are happy to comply.  One client responded with, “Why didn’t you do this for me?”  Whilst I don’t wish to `thin slice` here, but when I hear this, I suspect this attitude might extend into other contexts.

Alarm bells also ring when people reject all available appointments that are offered and instead insist on a time or day that is unavailable.  And I must say, I am pretty flexible with my appointment times.  Without an exception, every single time I shifted my schedule to suit a client in this way, I regretted it.  These are the clients who are either late or simply don’t show up, and then expect another appointment.

In the last 18 months, only two clients have failed to show.  Both were people who wanted appointments on evenings where they were not offered and both were clients who I volunteered to see for free.  So, I booked out evenings for people who aren’t paying and then they don’t show up.  Not my preferred thing at all.

I am clear with my clients that if they are late, or fail to show up, I never offer a second appointment.

Both those clients complained about my lack of “caring.”

Two other indicators that I have found prove to be a 100% predictor of a “problem” client. (i.e. problem to me, not to themselves in terms of chronicity).

  1. They arrive bearing a present and I have never met them before.
  2. They reject the offer of tea/coffee/water.

People who arrive bearing presents or songs of praise for me on the first time we meet tend to make me nervous.  A pendulum will swing both ways and at the same speed.  People who buy favour will often withdraw it at the same speed.

Now whilst it isn’t common, some clients will arrive with a present and offer it at the end of the session.  Whilst they are paying a fee, some people will still feel a degree of debt.  So this isn’t the same as people who offer a gift at the beginning – it creates a mutual degree of appreciation and for many will help balance things out. At workshops, it isn’t uncommon for people to arrive with biscuits or cake to add to the refreshments table.  This is a good thing and, I’d just like to add, homemade fruitcake is my favourite.

Thus the client who arrives offering the gift puts me in a position of gratitude to them before we have even started.  It’s an interesting dynamic and from experience isn’t a good one.  It is difficult to maintain an attitude of gratitude and act in a therapeutic manner at the same time.  Gifts offered at the beginning of a session tend to act as a Trojan horse.  Be aware.

This has only happened once in the past two years, and the individual who did so went on to make numerous late night phone calls, abusive text messages, threats against property and unpleasant emails and Facebook messages.

My advice to anyone on the receiving end of such action is to respond only once asking what the problem is.  This gives the person an opportunity to properly record what their grievance is.  For some people there is no reason, they just enjoy being aggrieved – it’s their thing - and so are unable to tell you exactly why they behave in this way.  Cease all further communication and simply record in hard copy where possible all evidence of the abuse.  I keep impeccable records of such actions.

Therapists tell me that they worry about being sued by such individuals – maybe as a therapist they did or said something wrong during the session to provoke such a reaction.  Well, it would make for an interesting court case, don’t you think?

You see, it is like this your Honour, I didn’t like what the therapist said to me, so yes, I threatened him, send abusive messages, harangued and generally acted like an asshole for the past 6 months.  Now, I want you to award me some compensation.”

The other predictor is whether the person accepts the offer of “tea or coffee?” when they arrive.  I’ll save this for another blog entry, but basically, at the first offering the person receives, they reject it.  It tends to set the precedent for how the session will go subsequently.