As therapists, we sometimes feel unmotivated to meet with certain clients. We, like all human beings, grow tired of repetitive patterns. We feel dragged down by therapy sessions that seem to be going nowhere or that seem to trigger negative responses in either ourselves or our client.
Of course, it’s not a fun experience for clients who are struggling with daily challenges, mental health conditions, or relationship difficulties. Many of them come to therapy hoping that they will meet a wonderful therapist who understands them, offers useful teaching tools, and inspires them to be creative and open minded.
To be those helpful therapists, we must be able to jumpstart new ideas and to understand the emotions of those we work with. That’s why Courtney Armstrong, a counselor who specializes in grief and trauma, wrote The Therapeutic “Aha!”: 10 Strategies for Getting Your Clients Unstuck.
Armstrong understands that just as a person can become stuck in his or her patterns of thought, therapy itself can become stuck. And so she attempts to awaken us, the practitioner, to better ways of communicating, new techniques we can try, and new ways to challenge clients and help them grow — with a focus on engaging the emotional brain.
In my own sessions with a difficult population of children and adolescents, I have clients who are resistant, oppositional, or simply unmotivated. Although I enjoy using imagery, processing emotions through discussion or art or writing, and discussing goals, I sometimes get stuck and lose focus. Reading Armstrong has already helped me stay engaged.
While some of her ideas can easily be applied to a particular session, other techniques require a bit more thought and processing. But the dialogues she provides show, vividly, how to use techniques and engage clients in processing their emotions and experiences appropriately. These examples are easy to comprehend, remember, and utilize.
The most significant message from Armstrong to me is that she focuses not so much on using techniques such as CBT or DBT but on working with the emotional experience of the client. For instance, early on she gives an example of a client who is struggling with the reality of her son’s substance addiction and differentiation process. Armstrong encourages the mother to explore her own feelings about her son becoming an adult and how her lack of acceptance of his independence may be contributing to their rocky relationship and the son’s resistance to treatment. She helps the mother draw associations between her own behaviors and her son’s.
One drawback of the book is that readers may lose interest in the chapters focusing on Armstrong’s own so-called RECON approach and memory reconciliation. Still, the majority of the text offers great tools and approaches to getting unstuck. It also includes easy-to-understand updates on neuroscience research, which may help with recharging the emotional brain. For clinicians or therapists who are working with individuals who have traumatic histories or who do not respond well to traditional therapeutic approaches, Armstrong may help move sessions forward.
The Therapeutic “Aha!”: 10 Strategies for Getting Your Clients Unstuck
Hardcover, 224 pages
W. W. Norton & Company, April 2015