Building Trust Through Kind and Hopeful Honesty

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Building Trust Through Kind and Hopeful Honesty In chapter 2 I discussed the importance of the counseling relationship. The two cases I discuss in this chapter show the importance of the relationship. The client must trust the therapist and believe that the therapist will be honest in kind and hopeful ways. It is easy to become impatient and attempt to motivate clients to move faster than they are ready to move or to be hesitant and move more slowly than the client wants to move. It is important that you are sensitive to the client and lead the client when the client is ready to follow. One of the ways you build trust is by moving at the pace that the client dictates. The following story illustrates this point. Patiently Building Trust Tommie was a 31-year-old divorcé who was on medication for anxiety. Her anxiety caused her to have headaches, knots in her shoulders and neck, and reflux problems. Reporting that she had suffered from anxiety for as long as she could remember, she indicated that she had low esteem and avoided conflicts at all costs. She always did whatever she could to please others. In this first session, all I did was listen and respond with care and concern. I made no attempt to lead her toward any action because it was obvious that she needed to unpack her story. When Tommie came for her second session, she stated that she had experienced intense anxiety during the week and was at a 7 on the SUDS scale. We agreed to try hypnosis. As she went into a light trance, tears began to stream down her face, which brought her out of trance. When I asked her about the experience, she said that she felt so alone and misunderstood. I listened as she told me about her life of loneliness and how she had never felt understood by her ex-husband. I assured her that I wanted to understand her as well as support and encourage her. Tommie went back into trance and then very quickly came out again, reporting that her head had begun to swim. I asked her what this meant to her, and she said that it represented the fact that she was going around in circles and getting nowhere. We talked about where she wanted to go and what she wanted to accomplish.

What would you have done in the third session with Tommie? Would you have continued with the idea of hypnosis, or would you have gone in a different direction? If so, what direction would that have been? Write your thoughts. When Tommie came for our third session, she reported that her anxiety was still at a 7. In this session Tommie was able to go into a deep trance. I made indirect suggestions about the possibility of dissociating from her anxiety and/or remembering to forget her anxiety (amnesia). After Tommie came out of trance, she reported being at a 2 on the SUDS scale. When Tommie came for her fourth session, she reported that she had been at a 2 all week and had not suffered from any intense anxiety. She had suffered no headaches, the knots in her shoulders and neck had gone away, and she also had no reflux problems. According to Tommie, this was the first time in years that she had been free of these symptoms. When Tommie first came to see me, she was untrusting because she had been hurt repeatedly. It took three sessions before she could trust me enough to allow herself to let go of her guardedness. I had to be patient and move at her pace. Once she trusted me, she was able to do powerful and effective work in order to quickly resolve her anxiety. Sometimes it is difficult to be honest with a client. None of us like to make negative comments or reveal something unattractive about the client to her. We want to be nice. This case shows how being honest is important. Equally important is being honest in ways that will give the client hope, not tear her down. This case is about honesty. Be honest with clients. Preston, Varzos & Liebert (2000, p. 28) explained to clients, “The therapist’s function is to provide honest and objective feedback about your attitudes and actions.” Honesty builds trust and, at some level, clients know when you are trying to be nice but are being dishonest in the process. Dishonest niceness is destructive. Be honest, even if it means saying something that is negative to the client. Preston, Varzos & Liebert (2000, p. 28) went on to tell clients this truth: “The feedback will feel good when it recognizes your strengths and it may feel uncomfortable when it points out your weaknesses.” However, a negative—if communicated in a way that is kind and hopeful—can be redeeming. The following story illustrates this point. The Unattractive Woman Ann was a 29-year-old obese female. Even though she potentially had beautiful facial features, she always wore jeans and T- shirts, never fixed her hair and never wore make-up. She came to see me because she was depressed to the point of having suicidal thoughts. During our first two sessions, she did a great deal of complaining about what a miserable failure she was and how her life would never be good. In our third session, Ann stated, “I am ugly and will never have a man because no man will ever want to be in a relationship with a loser like me.” What would your response be? How could you communicate the truth in a way that would give her hope? Write your response before reading further. Here’s how I responded. I said, “You’re right. You are unattractive, but you could be attractive. Look at yourself. You are overweight. You never wear anything but T- shirts and jeans. You never fix your hair, and you never wear make-up. You have beautiful brown eyes, high cheekbones, and well-formed, full lips. I wonder what would happen if you took care of yourself.” Upon hearing this, she dropped her head and looked embarrassed. She told me, “I’m going to tell you something that I have never told anyone before. When I was a young teen, my friends began wearing make-up, but my mother said I was too young and would not allow me to wear it. By the time my mother would allow me to wear it, I was too embarrassed to ask my friends to

barrassed to ask my friends to teach me how to apply it. My mother never cared about how she looked; therefore, I had no role model for matching clothes, fixing my hair or wearing make-up. So, I began to pretend that I didn’t care how I looked.” “Would you like to learn?” I asked. “I know a lady who teaches these skills to young teens, and I think she would be willing to work with you. If you’d like, I’ll call her right now and see about getting the two of you together.” She indicated that she wanted me to make the call. I called my friend, Judy, and set up an appointment for the two of them to get together. Judy worked with her over the next few weeks, teaching her the skills that she needed to improve her appearance. We set an appointment for the week following the completion of her sessions with Judy. When she came to our appointment, she seemed to be a different person. She obviously felt better about her appearance and was no longer feeling sorry for herself. We saw each other for several more sessions, until she became confident that she no longer suffered from depression. Several months later she moved to another town, and I did not see her for a couple of years until one day she returned for a visit. Much slimmer than she had been two years earlier, she had styled her hair and was wearing make-up; she was wearing a new pair of jeans with a pretty blouse and sweater. She reported that she was happy and, even though she did not have a man in her life, she was optimistic that a romantic relationship would happen at some point. Even if it didn’t, she claimed that she would be okay because she had learned to be happy with herself. This encounter teaches a valuable lesson, the importance of being honest with clients. When Ann said that she was ugly, I could have ignored the statement or downplayed her feelings. But if I had, I would probably have lost her trust because she would have known that I was not being genuine and that she could not trust me. Because I told her the truth in a kind and hopeful way, she was led to make a dramatic change in her life. Exercise: Focus on people you know who believe they are unattractive. This can be physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual unattractiveness. Find attributes about each of these people that are attractive. If they came to you because they were discouraged due to their unattractiveness, how would you help them see ways that they are attractive or could be attractive? How would you state the truth to them in kind and hopeful ways? Also, think about clients that you failed to help. As you remember them, think of one with whom you moved too fast or too slow. How could you have worked differently with this client? What did you need to do to speed up or slow down so that you were working at the client’s pace?

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