It’s good to remind ourselves not to see and relate to people – children and adults – through the filter of a label, however correct we may think the label is.
Some time ago I had the opportunity of working with a woman in her late 20s. She was diagnosed as chronically depressed, and stuck in a junior position in her company because they said she was a slow learner with poor communication skills and no good at working in a team.
She had regular sessions with a psychotherapist in Sydney for 2 years. The sessions were helpful and she did make some progress, but she was still withdrawn and working below her potential – as many people would expect of a person who is chronically depressed.
She came to see me and, after having regular sessions with me for just over a year, she was promoted to team-leader. A few months later she started training another worker, and she has recently been chosen to represent her company at management level in national conferences.
The therapist she worked with previously saw a person suffering from chronic depression and, with the very best of intentions, focused on treating her depression. The therapy sessions were helpful, but didn’t go far enough.
I saw an intelligent and creative person who needed help and encouragement in overcoming the internal and external obstacles that stood in her way.
Whilst sometimes a problem-focused approach can be helpful, the results achieved tend to be limited and short-lived. It also runs the risk of reinforcing the problem rather than solving it.
My focus was not on depression but on helping her recognize and connect with her strengths, her excitement, intelligence and creativity, as well as identifying and dealing constructively with whatever was getting in her way.
I’m saying this because, with the best of intentions, we can get caught up in seeing a condition rather than a person.
Whilst the condition needs to be recognized and understood, it is somewhat limiting and can be harmful to define a person just by their condition. A person is more, much more, than “clinically depressed”, “autistic”, “addicted”, or whatever limiting condition they happen to be experiencing at the time.
In my work I ask: What is trying to happen and what is getting in the way? And let the person themselves show us the answer – through their words, gestures, and the way they’re breathing and moving.
In a culture that is getting increasingly attached to labels and techniques, it is important to remember that we are still dealing with human beings.
It is also important to remember that if a person is diagnosed with a certain condition, this does not necessarily mean that they are stuck with it for the rest of their lives.
Having said all this, it’s not always easy to know what to focus on and what approach to take, and the ability to do this comes with training and experience, as well as with our willingness, as practitioners, to work on our own emotional issues in order to enable us to make clear judgements and to be aware of any emotional issues that may be getting in our way.
It’s also important to be aware of what our skills are. There is often confusion between clinical and learning approaches.
I have developed Core Development as a learning process that draws on my in-depth training and experience in somatic and other schools of psychotherapy and counselling, as well as on my own therapeutic journey and life experiences over the past 40 years.
What I provide is a learning process and not a clinical or medical treatment, and if I have any doubt that a medical or clinical intervention may be helpful I suggest that the person consults a suitably qualified clinician.
Clinical and learning approaches are different and in some cases they can be complementary.
At the risk of being criticised for saying this, however, I think the word clinical is often used too loosely and imprecisely in the fields of counselling and psychotherapy, and I prefer to leave clinical interventions to practitioners who are clinically trained over a number of years.
Each person is different and needs to find the approach or combination of approaches best suited to their needs.