The next relationship we will explore is one that is ‘needed’ at times to help the healing journey of the client. It is known as:
The developmentally needed relationship
Just to make it very clear – this relationship type does NOT mean that there is something wrong with you, or your upbringing. After all there is no such thing as a perfect parent. Most parents do the best they possibly can. Instead, you may just find that your therapist is responding in a way that you felt was lacking in your previous relationships (particularly in childhood).
So how do we explain what it is?
Imagine your client has just expressed something highly emotional or traumatic in the session. So much so, that this client feels like they’re back in that moment. The therapist acts and responds in the way he/she believes you need in that moment. This may include asking what response you expect and responding differently to help you feel safe and secure.
Imagine this was your job for a moment…
Imagine someone suddenly bursts out crying in intense pain. Before you even know why they are crying, you may naturally wish to comfort and console them. You would want to be their support in that moment.
If you then discovered that they were crying because of something you believe to be small and insignificant. As a therapist you would still support them. You’d try to give them space to recognise what you have noticed about their needs. As, until they realise that this event is not as finite as they believe it is, they will not stop crying.
They may have expressed in the past, that they have been expected to hide their tears. They may feel as though their emotions are not worthy of being expressed.
So how do you respond?
As the therapist you want to support the client to lose their feeling of unworthiness. You want them to feel capable of expressing their emotions without fear; while recognising that things can get better. You also know that what they most need is a response. The response that they’ve longed for previously.
Therefore, in this moment, you may react in the way that you feel will benefit the client the most, similarly to a caregiver.
Your therapist is not your parent
Your therapist cannot relive your childhood with you and behave in the way you believe your parents, siblings or friends should have. However, while doing his/her job, the therapist may begin to display behaviours and responses towards you that you had previously required (note: I did not say desired or wanted).
The responses are chosen to support you to build your sense of self-worth, confidence, resilience and independence.
Like other relationship types it is not necessary that this type of relationship will play out within a therapeutic intervention. If it does, it is unintentional, and as with actual parenting it can go completely wrong – but in either case this can serve to be a healing process for the client.
If we look at the therapy session as a practice ground for life – any ‘mistakes’ on the therapists part gives the client room to understand what their underlying desires were, and how to verbalise them or fulfil them autonomously.
Remember, the client is always in control, and only you will truly know what you need and why.