Taking Issue With The Expert Position
I take issue with therapists positioning themselves as the expert in the room.
To maintain the position of expert, the therapist must know more than the person. This creates a distance between the therapist and person from the start that I don’t find helpful.
Most depictions of therapists on TV are standoffish at best, if not downright opinionated regarding the person.
Therapists are shown as having a look of superiority as they listen to the person talk. The distance created here protects the therapist, it’s like a wall of “professionalism” that makes the therapist somewhat not human and able to pronounce declarative statements about the person in front of them and speak with “wisdom” as to what this person should do to fix their life.
And if you really want to get me going, we can talk about tone. Often, therapists have a different tone they use in therapy than in outside life. It’s easy to recognize when you hear it, and I also think that it serves to create this distance and keep a position of superiority.
Well, this is just my impression of course, and I wouldn’t be concerned nor write about it, if I didn’t think that it had real ramifications.
One of the most concerning aspects of this distance occurs when things don’t work out. This happens more often than I would like to admit.
In order to keep an expert position, when things don't go well, it can’t be the responsibility of the therapist. This failure needs to be placed on the person.
This is done so subtly but effectively.
One of the most popular ways is witnessed when therapists talk about the meeting afterward. Experts will mention something about the person and it will often come across as a characterization. Clients will be called, “non-compliant”, “resistant” or “not ready to make change”.
Now, I can imagine some of this to be true, but I get concerned if this is the main way that a therapist depicts sessions that do not go well. And where I also take issue is that if often does not work in reverse. When a session goes well, I too frequently hear that it was the therapist who was responsible for it. That just doesn’t seem fair even if you are OK with this approach.
Now about me. I sometimes have a bad day. And on this day, it doesn’t matter what I try, nothing comes out well. My questions are tongue tied, I miss key things in the meeting, and I could go on but that’s enough of admitting that.
What I mean to say is that if a session goes poorly, I assume that I didn’t have the skills to be able to help this person or family. Maybe those skills didn’t show for me that day or maybe I need to work harder.
Michael White, the co-founder of narrative therapy, modeled this in his teaching. I appreciated it and have replicated it in my own work. I also understand that I am not always the best person to do therapy and that the narrative approach doesn't work for everyone.
I didn’t want to say that because I want it to work for everyone, but I am realistic and some other approaches may be a better fit for the problems that the person is facing.
I like the approach that I just described since it also doesn’t support the distance I described earlier. I don’t have the pressure of being the expert, and needing to put the problem on the person to maintain this position. I don’t need to have a different tone or have the pressure of making pronouncements.
I can work alongside people, helping them to explore the problems they face and help them to explore what they want in its place. Along the way, we can discuss what support this and what gets in the way. I love this position of facing things together.
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