One of the best clinical books I ever read was Irvin Yalom’s “The Gift of Therapy.” If you haven’t read it, I recommend it as a gift for yourself this holiday season! In his book, he shares in 85 (very brief) chapters the wisdom only he could provide to this generation of therapists about how to relate to our clients. I recently started rereading it again, and I love how I gain new insights each time. Some of my favorite chapters are entitled “Therapist and Patient as Fellow Travelers” and “Empathy: Looking Out the Patient’s Window.” This book was given to me as a gift by my mentor when I left my first job, which makes it even more meaningful to me.
The Gifts We Give
In his book, “Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship,” Garry Landreth talks about the qualities every play therapist needs:
- Personal courage
- Being non-judgemental
- Ability to be objective
- Being real
- Warmth and Caring
- Sensitive understanding
- Sense of Humor
I consider these the gifts we bring our clients each time we are with them. I am the first to say I have my days where I am lacking in one or more of these. But I know the impact these gifts make on my clients and so I try my best to not show up “empty handed.”
The Gifts We Receive
The relationship we build with our clients allows them to feel safe to share with us in return. Let’s be honest. The gifts our clients give us don’t always feel great. They are not easy for us to accept or to hold for our clients. But all of these are gifts just the same:
- A child trusting us with feelings of anger, sadness or shame.
- A child reenacting through play a trauma they experienced, too horrific for us to imagine.
- A child crawling into your lap for security when they hear sirens outside your office.
- A parent revealing her insecurities and fears that what she’s doing will never be enough for her child.
Even though it comes with the job, these gifts can leave us feeling loaded down, exhausted and at times overwhelmed. That’s why I don’t want to forget some of the feel-good gifts clients give us as well:
- A child who comes into your office, lets out a big sigh and declares this is her “favorite place.”
- A child who no longer needs to act out and get in trouble in order to get his needs met.
- A child who is able to face a new situation with excitement instead of fear.
- A parent who is thankful that her child is graduating from school and that you helped her get there.
Just recently, while doing my holiday shopping, I ran into the parent of a child client I haven’t seen for several years. Mom greeted me warmly and shared how her child is now in college and doing very well. What an unexpected gift! As we exchanged Merry Christmases and walked away, I knew this was a gift I would always treasure.
Landreth, G. L. (2012). Play therapy: The art of the relationship (3rd Ed.). New York: Taylor & Francis Group.
Yalom, I. D. (2002). The gift of therapy: An open letter to a new generation of therapists and their patients. New York: HarperCollins.