Week 3- Basic mistakes

From the title of the Chapter, you can see that Ch. 2 covers “basic therapy” skills. However, while these skills may sound basic in nature, they are often fairly difficult to achieve for therapists. Throughout the course of this class, I have had many students who reached out to me with complaints about past therapists that were all related to mistakes with “basic” skills. For example, one therapist committed the error or self-disclosing too much with a client by telling her that she had also gone through problems with her parents when she was younger and “this is how you handle it”. Another therapist challenged a client very early on in therapy, and without a strong therapeutic relationship already established. This caused the client’s defense mechanisms to activate and it was difficult for her to form a relationship with the therapist after that point in time. I always tell students that psychologists are just like doctors, in that you have have great ones and not-so great ones. I, of course, am always pained to hear about experiences like this with therapists as I worry that these types of experiences set up a negative expectation for therapy and that some “bad eggs” could give the rest of us a bad name.

The sad thing is that with a little more introspection and self knowledge (back to that old “know thyself” mantra), many of these mistakes could be easily avoided. If we can recognize where in these basic skills we are lacking, we can work towards improving them. For example, one of the hardest skills I learned was that of silence. It seems like the simplest technique, doesn’t it? Just, “don’t talk”. However, if you are dealing with a client and they give a short answer and silence ensues, the beginner therapist (full of anxiety about the session and keeping it flowing smoothly) will often fill in the silence quickly with a remark or another line of questioning. However, often the most beneficial thing to learn is to sit with the silence. Often, this allows the client to consider something on their own, or be filled with enough anxiety that they give more information to break the silence.

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Your turn! Look over the skills listed in Chapter 2 and try to identify which ones you might have the most difficulty with, and why. Share with your classmates and myself and let’s see what kind of stuff we come up with. Maybe you’ll share a few in common, or all notice that different skills would be hardest for each of you to master.

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