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Process > Content, Part II

In the last post, I talked about the importance of prioritizing process over content. Process is the how or why, whereas content is the what or when. Process involves taking a step back from the details of what a person is saying to focus on why or how they are saying them. Likewise, how a therapist communicates with a client is of far more value than what the therapist actually says.

The two remaining questions to answer are: How do we know what process a client needs? How do we know when that process needs to change?

The process of therapy for each particular client is of paramount importance because until it is figured out, the therapeutic material will remain silent. In other words, if my therapist talks too much, I may decide not to tell him or her what is really on my mind that week, in silent rebellion against the fact that this is MY time, not his/hers. Likewise, if my therapist never says anything, I might feel lost and confused, and keep things on the surface. Ultimately, the goal is to find a process that makes the client comfortable talking.

Clients tell us the process they need in nearly every form except direct communication. That is reserved for long-term clients who have come to trust their therapist. Until then, clients will tell us by being late, by not talking about what is on their mind, by asking us personal questions, by cancelling appointments, et cetera. It is up to the therapist to translate these behaviors into the understanding that something is not working. The therapist must do this before the client decides to terminate, as well.

Sometimes, friends and colleagues will talk about what is not right in their own therapy. “My therapist doesn’t talk enough,” they’ll tell me. Or, “My therapist is always fifteen minutes late, and it drives me insane.” Although I encourage people to say this to their therapist directly, I also understand that it might be difficult to do so, especially in the beginning. The advantage is that how he or she handles it will go a long way in helping you decide if the relationship is right for you.

As I mentioned in the last post, almost everybody’s process will need to change at some point in their therapy, especially if they stick with it for a while. Sometimes the content will change, necessitating a different process. Other times, people will mature into different personalities. Whatever the cause, the goal is that by the time the original process needs to change, the client is comfortable enough to say it directly to the therapist. But sometimes that level of comfort is not yet present. I have had more than a few clients drop off after 6 months or more; my guess is that it’s because I was not reading their subliminal messages that they were ready for a change.

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