Editor’s note: Dr. Carol Francis, MFCT, is an expert in relationship and family issues who has authored several books and e-books about a variety of mental health concerns. Her continuing education presentation for GoodTherapy.org, Clinically Equipping Clients for Success and Satisfaction, is scheduled for 9 a.m. PST on March 1. This event is available free with 1.5 CE credits for all GoodTherapy.org members. For details, or to register, please click here.
On the first day your new client greets you, he/she begins unfolding personal, fictional tales of successes, failures, dreams, disappointments, and hopes. Before they perch on the office’s inviting couch, you as therapist are woven into their tales as one significant means of success, their new maven of hope. They hesitatingly reveal their shame, confusion, losses, and wants—to you—because you are to propel them toward success. Whatever they conceive “success” to be, they pay you to lead them down that path to success. They disclose confidentially—to you—with hope. They take time and money to seek your services because they believe you hold the keys to their success. The pressure is on.
These consumers, patrons, customers, and clients pay you (or their insurance pays you) in order to accomplish their definite and diffused goals. Your income, which supports your lifestyle and pays your bills, are intricately linked to your clients’ lack and loss and your clients’ successes and gains. In private practice, your ability to create successful results is central to your income success. In public sectors, ethical and clinical practices also mandate that you use evidence-based therapies, which apparently have empirically been measured to produce success in a numerically significant majority of test subjects.
Wait a minute! Whose definition of success is being utilized in your private office, your community clinics, or our professional research designs? Who is determining which few tools are solely responsible for those statistically analyzed positive outcome results?
The answer is obvious: other humans. These other humans also grapple with failures and triumphs, glitches, luck, and success. These same humans seek success of all different sorts about various aspects of life’s details and overpowering urges.
Many goals are socially embedded as memes dictating our selection of desirabilities. Other goals stem from parental standards. Closer to the heart are those idiosyncratic longings or personalized needs.
Naturally, because you are human, your personal sense of what comprises success informs your professional perspectives about success. Then you apply your presuppositions about success, unknowingly and knowingly, to those clients who first greet you in your waiting room. Your professional training, academic readings, research findings, or socialization all sculpt your definition of what is viewed as success. These govern what tools you use to breed success with your paying client.
Face it: Successful living is your goal for yourself. Successful living is your clients’ goal, too. But is everyone defining success the same way with the same parameters? Additionally, is everyone equipped to produce the same or different forms of success using only the same tools that everyone else is supposed to use? The answer to these two questions is of course, resoundingly, no!
Two years ago, I enjoyed writing my seventh book: Spiritual Paths, Spiritual Gurus: Your Choice. Over 40 years, I immersed myself in fourteen schools of thought, approaching understanding the human existence, and how to be successful in life, from at least fourteen different perspectives. Each ideology has merit, as proven by their test subjects (their followers and advocates), even though each explains life’s goals and life’s measure of success from a different perspective. Each ideology prescribes multiple steps to be taken to ensure those goals are successfully met sometime in the context of one’s life. Each describes success and the tools for successful living from different perspectives. Each has historical impact on society that has been found (statistically measured) by a majority within a society as being powerfully positive and thus worth implementing in order to produce some type of outcome. Each perspective has proponents and gurus who advocate their path. And each perspective has opponents who disagree with their goals, their tools to meet their goals, or both. Truth? Falsehood? Or different perspectives?
Three years ago, I collected 17 people together and asked them to write about how women needed to evolve during the 21st century. Their ideas and suggestions comprise a diverse anthology: Evolving Women’s Consciousness: Dialogues with 21st Century Women (and men). These people represent different races, educational opportunities, economic levels, and developmental stages of life. These sincere authors pour their hearts and wisdom into topics about being successful. They examine issues pertaining to being a successfully evolving woman from several different perspectives: empowerment, weight control, sanity, spirituality, defeating abusive pasts, rising above poverty or prejudice, romance, historical paternal social antagonism, motherhood, childhood, career advancement, money struggles, severe illness, mental illness, caretaking elderly, negotiating hormonal irregularities, retirement, grief, old age, and dying.
Notably, each individual has his or her image of a successfully evolving woman. Each individual advocates the value of different tools that promise to yield a different type of success. Each individual approaches life using various tools and skill sets. Each individual was approaching a different phase of life’s challenges, bodily development, and relevant life issues. Success is defined differently for each. Tools for success are different, too.
Dr. James T. Grotstein, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, author, and profound thinker, mentored me during the 1980s. He drilled into me how essential it is to listen to my clients from the clients’ point of view more than myself, research, or any paradigm. Only the client can explain his or her successes and failures. Only the client can reveal his or her actual tools and skill sets, or lack thereof. Only the client can learn new ways to think, feel, act, and believe about how to succeed. Only the client can implement the success-making tools they acquire and apply in therapy.
Are formulas for success therefore irrelevant? Are generic understandings of cause and effect to be forfeited during therapy in favor of individuality? Do therapists therefore lack tools, insights, guidance, procedures, or methodologies which can help clients live life successfully? Answer: Of course not.
Almost all the tools for success, and almost all the definitions as to what is successful living, have a degree of merit in some part of each person’s life. But no one tool, no one paradigm of success, and no one definition of success is the answer to everyone’s quest for success during all stages of development or across all issues of everyone’s unique life journeys.
Dr. Lawrence Hedges, another of my career mentors, captures the psychoanalytic and psychodevelopmental aspects of these truths in his excellent treatise, Listening Perspectives. No therapist can afford to enter the therapeutic dyad without acknowledging the blindness and lenses created by one’s professionally trained listening perspectives. Hedges agrees with Grotstein, who suggests that a therapist cultivate no fewer than seven different therapeutic schools of thought, seven schools of research, seven theoretical perspectives, seven different paradigms.
I am suggesting that, in actuality, as soon as we meet the client in the waiting room, we need to listen to his or her own paradigms, which have been uniquely developed and individualized based on misinterpretations and accurate understanding about who they are, where they have come from, what success means to them, and what tools they perceive themselves to have, which can produce success—their version of success. We listen to their narratives, their fictions, their autobiographies, and their accumulated skills to succeed or fail. We listen, as much as we can from their point of view, and hopefully from many other points of view as well.
Thereafter, this profound listening becomes woven consciously and unconsciously into the therapist’s tools, perspectives, and paradigms about success. Then we plow forward to the goals and successes that our clients and we mutually feel capable of creating.
Western society is largely inspired to breed success. We admire success. We want success. Our business plan as psychotherapists is to build successful practices or successful clinics that can thrive financially, or at least survive financially, while we simultaneously assist other humans to be successful. Therefore, it is essential to examine what success means to each of us. What tools can be used to create different types of success in different types of personalities and in different developmental phases of life?
Early on the morning of March 1, I will be leading a discussion in partnership with GoodTherapy.org about “success-oriented therapies or interventions.” This will be 90 minutes blitzing through success paradigms and success tools from the industries of finance, entertainment, fitness/beauty and health, relationship building, cultural sociology, politics, religious teachings, spirituality practices, life coaching, self-help, and psychology. Cross-generational perspectives will be examined as well as we explore paradigms proposed about millenilists (ages 15-29), Generation Xers (ages 30-49ish), Boomers (50ish to 70ish), and beyond.
These 90 minutes also will address how to sell/market/advertise your success-oriented private practice. Your clients want success—their success. How are you going to hone your tools for success to meet their demands for such?
Imagine greeting each client who stressfully waits out the minutes in your waiting room. There they sit and wonder and worry. There they twist their hands and poke at their smart phones while hoping you are their next effective guru who can lead them along a path of success and out of their painfully dark caves of failure. Pressure’s on!
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