In my first interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB) article two months ago, I went into detail about the significance of starting therapy with our advertising and our first phone contact, email, or voicemail. Our intentions need to be clear and of the utmost integrity as these greatly influence the client even if they do not attend a session. Our kindness and helpfulness also beneficially impact ourselves.
“Mutual empathy occurs when two people relate to each other in a context of interest in the other, emotional availability and responsiveness, cognitive appreciation of the wholeness of the other, the intent is to understand… Growth occurs because as I stretch to match or understand your experience, something new is acknowledged or grows in me” (p. 89, The Stone Center).
Although this may only be a message or a brief conversation, as therapists, it is important for us to understand its significance. Many clients seek therapy because they are desperate. Maybe their marriage is falling apart, their child is suicidal, they are too depressed or anxious to function at work or within their family. When some form of emotional pain, loneliness or fear, is present, kindness and intent to understand and help is beneficial.
“Mrs. Jones, I can hear how terrifying this situation is for you and your family. And I can only imagine how painful it must be to see your daughter lying in that hospital bed, not knowing if she will come out of her coma. Some people, myself included, believe the comatose person can sense people around them. All the love the family feels and conveys to her with your presence will help her. I appreciate your call. Please continue to call for support as you need. And no matter what happens with her, I’m available to your family—to help through the grieving, recovery, or prevention of future suicide attempts.”
Here, I address her loneliness, her fear, and the power of her love and presence for her daughter. Also, I give her support and let her know she will not be alone in the future, no matter what happens. We will work to prevent this from happening again—lots of reassurance. Consider how much more beneficial this would be than the client hearing, “Yes, this sounds very difficult. Why don’t you call me when you are ready for an appointment.”
The power of IPNB is amazing in that just me writing this and you reading it changes our brains. We can feel the caring and reassurance in the speaker’s words and sense the relief of the client as she lets in the caring and reassurance. It is especially important to identify the power of the love and caring the family has for the daughter. No matter what transpires here, once the family or the daughter comes into the office for therapy the family’s love needs to be a point of focus.
“As I sit here now I remember how I felt when I talked to Mrs. Jones on the phone during her daughter’s comatose period. I could feel the love, concern, and caring in that hospital room. I feel it now. I feel appreciation for the family and how much you gave to your daughter. This probably helped her pull through and allows her to sit here with us today. Please take a moment to experience what you feel in your body right now, as you hear this from me and reflect on where you’ve been these last weeks.”
The more we can feel these emotions as either giver, receiver, or observer, the more we will be able to benefit others and participate in the experience.
© Copyright 2010 by Christopher Diggins, MA, LMHC, therapist in Seattle, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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