Developing Good Character: It’s Not Just for People in Therapy

Woman with clipboard and two menTo open the New Year, I’d like to quote something written to me by a Babalawo in the Yoruba faith (the highest level of initiation possible; only a few are chosen). Speaking about what Yoruba priests are mandated to do, he said: “Ifa (the guide for followers of the religion) says … ‘As my life gets better, so should yours.’ Meaning that we are called to improve the spiritual, mental, financial, and environmental condition of the people we are connected to.”

I would add that this includes ourselves. Our own striving as priests to improve ourselves and develop what the Yoruba called “Iwa pele,” or “good character,” has a ripple effect on those around us.

It seems to me that this could easily apply to the work we do as psychotherapists and counselors. We are constantly called upon to not only examine our unspoken reactions and responses to people in therapy (called countertransference) but to be vigilant about how we communicate with them. An ill-timed response or an empathic failure can be not only painful but destructive and can derail or slow progress. A few of these over the years can ironically help the treatment—it leads to useful discussions of what it feels like to the person in therapy to be disappointed, and so on—but more than a few is not acceptable. As therapists, we must always be developing our Iwa pele.

I intuitively believed that our lives improve as a result of this challenge in all ways—spiritual, mental, financial, and environmental—and so does that of people in treatment. It took me a minute to think of the ways this actually works, particularly for those of us in private practice.

In private practice, the number of people we come in contact with in our offices is relatively small in the grand scheme of things. If we teach, lecture, or lead workshops, the number of contacts grows. Our numbers also increase depending on the number of years we are in practice. Nevertheless, in literal terms, it is still small.

However, our reach as therapists and counselors is greater than we might imagine. It was this that I considered when I pondered the meaning of what the Babalawo had written to me and how it applied to my work as a therapist and my life.

I thought of the people who had sat in my office for the past 14 or so years and how I played a role (sometimes very significant) in their lives. This is obvious. But what I also reflected on was how the changes in them affected those around them, and not only in their present circumstances. These changes would affect people in their lives for years to come. I recalled several who went on to complete PhDs (with great agony) and are now teaching or are therapists themselves. I thought about those who went on to marry and have children, and how our work impacted their mates and offspring. I remembered sitting with families whose dynamics changed as a result of examining their relationships.

I trust you get the point. The more I thought about it, the more the ripple kept getting larger and larger. I can’t say for sure what happened to most of them. Hopefully it was positive. For those with whom I work or those who have stayed in touch, I see the positive changes on all of those levels mentioned above. Their growth, their development of Iwa pele, helps me to continue to develop my own.

It is tempting as a therapist to focus on the people we may have failed or who just weren’t ready to do the work and left.

In the spirit of a new year, I, for one, will do my best to have a balanced assessment of my contribution to helping myself and others in our processes of transformation. I’ll also strive to do better.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kalila Borghini, LCSW, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 4 comments
  • Leave a Comment
  • rachel

    rachel

    January 7th, 2013 at 12:50 PM

    every person we interact with,every person we work with,they become connected to us.it is my belief.whatever we share with them or impart in them that will become a part of them and will in turn affect and impact those related to them.it is the flow of energy.the whole of mankind is connected that way.if we only realize this and are able to tap that energy,that can become a great force by itself!

  • Cristy

    Cristy

    January 7th, 2013 at 4:00 PM

    Yes!! I truly belive that in life it is not only about what we can give to others, but also about what we can allow ourselves to gain and learn from others too. If we cannot be constantly learning from the deeds and actions of others, both good and bad, how are we supposed to give only to other people that from which they will benefit? It is a wonderful experience to see life through the eyes of others, to learn from their own rich pasts and experiences, and allow this to make us deeper and and more entertwined with our fellow man. It allows us to focus on the commonalities that we ahre rather than the small insignificant differences that we may have, and what a learning experience this could come to be for us all.

  • Randall

    Randall

    January 8th, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    It is the nature of us all to only look at the ways that we have failed in life and pay little attention to the successes that we have had. It seems that we always find a way to let the bad outweigh the good. This is doing nothing positive for us as a human being. I am taking away from this my own renewed commitment and dedication to looking toward the positive in life and the many ways that I have helped to contribute to that, even on days when I don’t think of even one way that I have. I find that by retraining myself to look at the positive that somehow allows me to let more of the negative vibes and energy melt away. I know that if that makes me feel better, then that then allows me to share that with others and hopefully in some meaningful wake a difference in their lives too. It’s all about paying the love forward so that that, not eveil will be what we continue to spread via the human race.

  • hazel

    hazel

    January 8th, 2013 at 9:53 PM

    the outlook and good character of a therapist can definitely resonate in a client..its like a whiff of air that is passed on to whoever it touches.good character is something each one of us should aim to cultivate because in general it does pass on to all those we are connected to and will in course.. come back to us., its a bit like karma, what goes around comes around. so always aim to pass on the positive, because in the end you will receive the same!

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.