A little help can go a long way.

Many years ago when I was a new counsellor, a woman came to see me. It was her first session with me and the first time ever seeing a therapist. She was stiff and anxious. It was very clear to me that she did not want to be here. She blurted out, “My 14 year old daughter from my first marriage is trying to break up my second marriage.” I wanted to put her issue with her daughter aside for the moment so I asked her to tell me about her marriage. To help her talk in depth about it I asked her to sit in a different chair and tell me only what was negative about it. She had lots of complaints. I listened and validated her feelings. To tease out the positive from the negative I asked her to switch to different chair and tell me only about the positive things in the marriage. She did not usually think much about the positive so this was not as easy for her. As she told me about the positives she became teary and sad. I don’t remember exactly what I said but it was something about how she was missing the good things in the relationship. She acknowledge that was true. Then I told her what I thought was going on for her – that she was very lonely in the marriage. When I said this she cried deeply. I helped her access and express her lonliness in depth.

At the end of the session I addressed her issue with her daughter that she had started the session with. I told her that I did not think her daughter was trying to break up her marriage so much as her daughter was very attuned to her unhappiness and was concerned about her. I did not give her any directions. We booked another session.

The next week she came back. Without preamble, she brusquely said to me, “I did not need to come today.” It kind of took me aback. Then she told me what had happened after last week’s session. She said when her husband came home from work she asked him to come into the living room. She said they started to talk and their discussion got loud. Her daughter came out of her bedroom to see what was going on. She told her daughter that she was taking care of this and to go back into her bedroom. Her daughter did as she was told. She said they continued to talk and that they talked with each other in a way they had never done before. They talked heart to heart about many things. They would argue, yet keep talking. She said they cleared up many incorrect assumptions that each had made about the other. Later in the week, to her surprise, her husband attended a parent/teacher’s meeting with her for the first time. She thought he did not care about her three daughters. He told her he thought she did not want him involved with them so he had just backed off.

She was pleased and relieved. In her curt manner she said she did not need to come again. I validated her efforts to make change and her courage in reaching out for professional help. I did not say so, but I also thought she enjoyed sharing her success with me and perhaps I was the only one she could share it with.

I thanked her for coming back to tell me what happened when she did not need to. I told her that if she had not come back I would have thought the session had not been helpful to her.

I never saw her again.

As a counsellor new to the work, this client taught me something I’ve never forgotten – that it is possible to facilitate significant change in a first session and in a single session. If a client does not come back, it MAY mean the session was not productive and that they did not connect with me, OR it may mean it was productive and that they do not need to come back or could not afford to come back. That has proved true over the years.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

Do it Yourself Relationship Help at B-Sort.com

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