The Johari Window and Irvin Yalom
I've been spending time recently with the book The Gift of Therapy by psychiatrist Irvin Yalom. Ever since I first read his work in graduate school, I have returned often to his writing to be refreshed and reminded why therapy works and is meaningful for both therapist and client. He talks a lot about the importance of what he calls "here and now" direct feedback to clients. This refers to the therapist letting the client know how they are experiencing them and the relationship in the context of the counseling session. For example, if someone has difficulty opening up in their personal life, the therapist will likely feel this and encounter barriers as they ask questions and try to get the client to talk. It's important to find the right time to notice this and bring it up in a session. To illustrate why this is helpful, Yalom references a tool called the Johari Window which is seen a the top of this post.
When a therapist lets a client know how they are experiencing them and gives feedback, they are helping to expand box 3- blind spots. One of the main things that creates distress for people is failure to be successful in their relationships, which is often due to patterns of relating that tend to create problems. Whether it's dominating conversations and not listening well, or avoiding intimacy, or being critical, these patterns or styles of relating will show up in the counseling room. It's important for clients to receive this feedback so that they can become aware of their blind spots. I want to emphasize that this feedback isn't given from a smug place of judgment or therapist superiority, far from it! It is given out of a desire on my part to connect in the counseling relationship and to kindly uncover blind spots.
Through deeper exploration of the past, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and even dreams, we can become more aware of the unknown self from box 4. These are the parts of ourselves that we're unaware of and have either buried or never uncovered. Whenever a client takes a risk and voices something they have always kept secret or have felt ashamed of, they are doing good work with box 2, the hidden self. I am always honored and touched when clients take a chance with me and let me know that what I've just heard has never been shared anywhere else. This is a huge step and often results in greater transparency with other important people in their lives outside of therapy.
I share this with you today to highlight a theme I return to often in this blog- the importance of our relationship in the counseling process. It is the primary change agent. Many people come into therapy thinking the change agent is learning new information like coping skills, or gaining insight into the source of their problems. These are certainly elements of therapy, but they are not the primary element. What happens between you and I each week as we meet and talk is the place where self awareness grows, new and healing types of interactions take place, and change occurs. Relationships take time to develop and so this means that therapy is a process and journey. It is one I look forward to taking with each of you.