When the good therapist sits down with their client, they will know there is no simple answer.
They will be aware of the deep wilderness in which our lives must be lived; what Yalom calls ‘existence pain’ – the harsh facts of life.
Harsh facts like the inevitability of death for each of us and those we love.
The frightening freedom we possess to make our lives and to destroy them.
Our ultimate aloneness in the journey.
The absence of any obvious meaning or sense to life; or justice in how things work and work out.
And, I would add to this list, the scream of our forgotten formation; the unresolved echoes of our past.
The good therapist may need to tell the client this process cannot be compared to medicine; there is no simple pill that can make things better.
It is more helpfully compared with going to the gym. There is hard work to be put in, if there is to be benefit. Fifty minutes in a comfy chair can be very exhausting.
The good therapist knows that they do not know everything, whatever the client may imagine.
But they do know the client possesses all they need to know, if only the ground can be cleared. Truth is the removal of barrier and impediment.
The therapist is not a guru – but a remover of rubbish which covers over hope and beauty.
And the good therapist notices when they are bored, and uses this knowledge.
The therapist becomes bored when the client is skating round an issue, in avoidance or denial. This is dull and the clock can appear to stop.
But when the client engages with the issues they need to engage with, the therapist’s attention returns; nothing could keep it away. Honesty is gripping.
The good therapist will not rush lazily toward a theory or a certainty, towards label or stereotype – but rather, will keep the encounter spontaneous and uncertain, where life is.
The presenting issue is never the issue, though; you can be almost certain of that.
The good therapist knows they are in it together with their client. It is not their problem but our problem. Every life has within it an echo of our own. No therapist is an island, ‘entire unto itself’.
The good therapist will not fear entering darkness, even if the client’s rage is transferred onto them. As Thomas Hardy said, ‘If a way to the better there be, it exacts a full look at the worst.’
But this can get messy.
So the good therapist will offer a safe space, where the worst – instead of being hidden away – can be unpacked without fear. It may even bring laughter.
And then the good therapist will get up and let go because they can save no one but themselves, a daily and ongoing challenge.
As TS Eliot prayed, ‘Teach me to care and not to care.’