The Great Commandment

I have been studying hypnosis for awhile now. By doing so, I have realized the second of my professional dreams.


The first dream was to be able to help people to explore issues deeply. I wanted to be a depth psychotherapist. Something always intrigued me about “going deep”, “getting to the real issue”, “understanding the cause”.


Most of my clients come in with the same wish. “I want to know why I …” Fill in the blank. “I want to know why I snore at night.” “I want to know why I drink too much.” “I want to know why I don’t love my husband anymore.” They want to get to the root cause of their problems, believing that by doing so, they can eliminate the cause, and solve the problem.


But early on in my training I learned that finding the root cause of a problem was usually a waste of time. I have a morbid fear of Rocky Horror Picture Show. After years of psychotherapy I find that it all started when I was 3, and my uncle, who looks like Tim Currie, was careless and let me fall into the lake, so that I almost drowned. That still doesn’t explain why I shudder when people throw popcorn in movie theatres.


Finding root causes was going out of style when I was in school. It doesn’t matter how we got here. It matters how we get to the next place. There are many possible reasons why I avoid man-eating plants and men in lingerie. All I need is one solution to enjoy a horror flick in peace.


I learned and practiced Solution-Focused Therapy. No need to get into long histories and why you hate your mother. We can jump right to the punchline. If your husband drinks too much, we just need to figure out how to get him to stop. Try asking him to stop. Try asking him not to stop. Try asking him to take out the garbage.


That is a caricature of the type of therapy I employ but taken in more depth (how ironic. And I won’t bore you with the details) it works, most of the time.


But back to the first dream. In spite of spending most of the clinical hour in looking for new ways to dissolve a client’s problem, I still find that, along the way, I get to know my clients in some depth. We still talk about their mothers, and fathers, and brothers, and crazy uncles. We still talk about their loves and hates and fears. We connect as human beings. I get to know people deeply, and they get to feel understood.


There is evidence that that is what really matters in therapy. Research shows that it is difficult, if not impossible, to prove that one particular method of psychotherapy is more effective than any other one. Solution-focused therapy – also called brief solution-focused therapy – is neither briefer than other therapies nor more effective. It works. But so does Emotionally Focused Therapy, Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, Multigenerational Family Therapy, etc. etc.


If all these therapies work, and all of them have different theories about why people have problems and how to help them, then the only thing these therapies all have in common is two people. A therapist and a client. Two people who sit in a room alone together and talk.


Irvin Yalom said it. It is the relationship that heals.

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