Therapist: “Sounds like you’ve been busy.
Sonya: “I have. I feel like I’m always busy… too busy. I never have time to just enjoy life. I can’t remember the last time my husband and I had any quality time together. I worry about our relationship sometimes, but we rarely find time to talk about anything other than our kids.
Therapist: “You’re worried about your relationship, but you’re both more focused on your kids than each other.
Sonya: “Yeah. It scares me that we can’t find any time to focus on each other. We just can’t seem to make our relationship a priority.
Therapist: “You’re scared that your relationship isn’t a priority.
Sonya: “I am. I don’t know what I would do if our relationship fell apart. I can’t even imagine life without him.
If you read the above vignette and felt like Sonya’s therapist was just paraphrasing and repeating everything she said, you’d be right, sort of. Sonya’s therapist isn’t repeating her statements because she’s disinterested or bored, however. The above conversation is a perfect example of the Rogerian technique called restatement. Restatement is a basic counseling intervention and one of the hallmarks of Rogerian psychotherapy. This technique involves capturing the essence of a client’s statement and then restating it. The most rudimentary function of this approach is to provide an opportunity for clarification. If a client hears something in the therapist’s restatement that differs from what he or she meant to convey, the client can clarify and make sure he/she and the therapist are on the same page before continuing. On a deeper level, the technique can also serve as an effective way to probe clients’ statements– when clients hear their words repeated back to them, they know their therapist understands them. This understanding often encourages clients to delve deeper into the issue at hand.
Although often effective, restatement interventions can sometimes leave clients asking the question, why does my therapist sound like a parrot? Why am I paying someone to repeat everything I say back to me? How can this possibly be helpful? And even if it is helpful, why can’t I just ask a friend to repeat what I say? To better understand how powerful a therapist’s restatement interventions can be, let’s take a closer look at one of the most basic tenants of Rogerian psychotherapy: the client is at the center of the therapeutic experience.
Rogers’ theory and approach to psychotherapy places such value on the client that Rogerian therapy and Client-Centered, or Person-Centered, therapy are terms that are used interchangeably. At its core, this means that clients are viewed as the experts on themselves. The therapist’s role is not to interpret clients’ experiences or make suggestions by giving them direct advice, but rather to serve as a mirror to the client, allowing them to see themselves, as they are, and to use this self-awareness to inspire changes.
Take the example given above. If Sonya were talking to a friend, the friend’s response to the first statement would probably have been one of commiseration. Her friend might have reviewed the events of her equally grueling day, complaining about her difficult boss, her overscheduled kids, and her forgetful husband. Alternatively, the friend might have shared some of the strategies that she uses to manage her time. In either case, the friend would have jumped into the spotlight and the focus would have shifted to the experience of two people, rather than remaining centered on Sonya. This is absolutely fine, and even valuable, within the context of a friendship, but it does not allow Sonya the opportunity to look more deeply into why her harried days are so distressing. A therapeutic relationship, rooted in Rogers’ theory, on the other hand, creates an environment and the dynamics necessary to explore issues at the deepest levels.
While at first glance, the Client-Centered restatement approach seems easy, even lazy, and it takes a great deal of training and practice to do it effectively. It requires considerable discipline to sit and listen– not to interject your own agenda, not to offer advice, not to tell your own story–but to hold up a mirror so clients can see themselves and determine whether the image they see aligns with who they wish to be. It also requires therapists to trust that clients have the answers within themselves. When clients are given the time and space allowed for by Rogerian therapy, they develop the insight necessary to move toward real, life-changing action.
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