There’s Nothing Wrong With You
I have said that my goal this year is to shift the focus in my practice from relationship counselling/therapy, to relationship coaching. I believe the word “therapy” gives the implication that there is something wrong with a person. However, the word “coaching” suggests not that something is wrong, but that a person’s or team’s way of doing something either isn’t working, or is not working as well as expected.
Just recently, I discovered that my understanding of how therapy works was developed even before I became an Imago Relationship Therapist. I received my Masters in Counselling Psychology at the Alfred Adler Institute of Chicago. Adler was a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, but broke with Freud quite early as they disagreed about many points of this new enterprise called psychology – the study of human and animal behaviour.
The Misconception of Therapy
If you think of a stereotypical Freudian office, as it is often portrayed in the movies, the client is lying on a couch participating in free association while the therapist is sitting behind the client taking notes. The clear understanding is that one is the “patient” and one is the “Doctor.” This image suggests that there is something wrong with you “the patient” and that I “the Doctor” will help fix that.
I really do believe that this perception of counselling/therapy is the most prevalent understanding of therapy in our culture. It seems to play a huge part in the resistance towards going to therapy as many people (often men) insist that there is nothing wrong with them. At the same time, they may be realizing that something within the dynamics of their relationship is not working very well either.
Adler, on the other hand, understood human behaviour in terms of what he referred to as “one’s lifestyle.” By the time a child is four or five, he suggested, they have figured out how to maneuver in their little family of origin. We all did. (And those of you with four or five year olds will attest I am sure, that your child knows how to get attention, get noticed, and how to relate to any siblings or adults in his/her environment.) Adler’s contention was that what brings people into the therapy office at a later stage of their lives is due to what they had learned at four or five – “their lifestyle” is no longer working. Rather than conclude that there was something wrong with a person, his conclusion was that if they had learned one thing at four or five, surely they could learn something that worked more effectively at a later stage of their lives. To me this is a much more optimistic approach to counselling.
It seems to me that the notion of coaching is more closely aligned to Adler. There is nothing wrong with most couples, and I stress most because there are always exceptions.
Deciding To Change Tactics
They can keep doing the same thing, or they can say, “OK, what can we do differently?”
It was really Helen, Harville Hendrix’s wife, who years ago said to him, “You have dethroned the therapist.” Typically, it is the therapist to whom people go in order to “get fixed.” (There is something wrong and the therapist will help correct it.)
In Imago Relationship Therapy, my job as a coach is to get two people to learn to talk, not to me, but to each other, and in a safe manner. I assure folks I can teach them to do that after which time, they won’t need me. After all, I am not asking them to do anything I don’t do with my own partner.
Like Adler, I believe the coaching analogy is a much more optimistic idea than the therapy/counselling idea. Couples realize that if they don’t try a new approach, nothing will change. They can keep using the same relationship tactics they used in the past, and suffer the same disappointing results. Learning new strategies, through their involvement in relationship coaching, can help them overcome their childhood modelling, and work towards a better relationship.