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He always arrived on the dot. Never early, never late. Impeccably dressed, an attitude of “I’m very busy; let’s get on with it” in his handshake. Every question met with a quick, efficient response. For three weeks the therapy went nowhere until in the middle of the fourth session, he said, “This office makes me uncomfortable.”
The therapist arched an eyebrow.
“It’s cluttered,” the client went on. “Your desk. I could never work in such conditions.”
“I apologize for your discomfort,” the therapist offered, inwardly appreciative that after almost a month of slogging exploration the client stepped out of himself, if only for a long moment. An opening?
“What do you do for fun?” A question the therapist had wanted to ask halfway through their first meeting.
“I play golf.”
The therapist scrunched the corner of his mouth, shook his head, murmuring, “Uh-uh,” and said quite seriously, “No you don’t. You work golf, just like you work life. The stakes may be different on a golf course than in the boardroom but you work just as hard in both places. Maybe harder at golf because of ego and the frustrations of the game.” He squirmed, fingering the knot of his tie, admitting almost meditatively, “You’re…ah, right. You’re right,” his eyes fastened on his belt buckle.
“So,” the therapist asked, leaning toward him, “what do you do for fun?”
+ + +
Effective therapy seldom, if ever, happens on the surface of self. Every therapist knows that unless and until they get “in,” they can never help others help themselves. “In” is where truth abides and where no therapist goes without an invitation, spoken or not.
The constructed self many of us live by defines the image one generally chooses to present to insignificant others, that is, those needing nothing beneath our surface. Many of us create whatever image delineates the threshold into deeper places and, when healthy, maintains and manages the image accordingly. In such individuals the constructed self is not a mask or a lie. It functions as a protective boundary many need, determining those parts of self they are willing and feel safe to share with anyone.
In healthy relationships being invited “in” is seen as a gift requiring both time and trust. In therapy, breakthroughs like the simple one above are gifts as well. When offered, even in subtle and at times subconscious ways, and accepted, such invites move both client and therapist to an almost sacred place – that part of self where truth abides, where one can commit oneself to growing. After all, isn’t that what therapy – and relationships – are all about?