Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What I Like About You

As I've aged -- ripened, mellowed, whatever-- I've gotten more emotional and effusive.  At least I think so-- Roy? ClinkShrink?  They've known me for a while.  I used to hold it in reserve when I liked someone, and in recent years I've been much more likely to tell people what I like about them, what wonderful friends they are, how much I treasure them.  

It's not the usual thing to do in psychotherapy, at least I didn't use to think so.  There's that whole blank screen thing and the psychoanalytic influence that makes it a no-no to say I Like You. We're supposed to look at what the patient brings, and if they wonder how I feel about them, well, more grist for the mill, so to speak.

People come to therapy hurting, sometimes injured or even damaged, and often feeling badly about themselves.  They nitpick, they blow their faults up, they talk about their strengths with ambivalence.  Oy.  And sometimes they're right about their faults, but last time I checked, I couldn't locate the perfect person and everyone has  a few.  I'm told I talk too much.  So what, who cares?  So I talk too much and my hair frizzles's who I am.  Psychotherapy isn't about fine-tuning people into perfection, but sometimes it is about helping them to become more comfortable with the imperfect person they happen to be.

I've taken to pointing out to patients some of their finer points.  I don't usually tell people I like them, but I do sometimes tell people that they're likable (this means I like them) or that they have a good personality.  Sometimes I list their strengths-- you're bright, creative, intuitive, thoughtful, considerate, you have high moral standards, a great sense of humor, and the list marches on.  I don't lie and I don't comment on peoples' physical appearances (-- hmmm--You're a great person despite that wild head of frizzly hair...I don't think so!).      

People come to therapy feeling vulnerable.  I hope it helps to counter a negative focus with a some reality cues-- most people aren't all bad.  I also think people sit on the couch feeling pretty vulnerable, and it helps to know that a therapist doesn't see them as a miserable creature.  Most patients seem comfortable with this.  Occasionally I have to be careful-- a compliment is heard a negation of someone's feeling-- as though I don't believe they are as bad as they want me to believe, as though I'm not really listening or I'm arguing.  

I do my best.  I'll stop talking now.  And if you want the music, try THIS.