"How do you build trust? Am I always going to be the person who screwed up? Where do we go from here?”
As I sat on my end of a telehealth session listening to a client ask me some variation of these questions, I experienced a momentary bout of imposter syndrome as I struggled to determine how to answer the same questions which afflict me. Snapping back to attention, I allowed the weight of silence pour out of my client into the virtual space. I observed as this client looked down, off-center, and to the left of the screen, unknowingly turning ever so slightly away from their partner. As a tear fell down their face, I suddenly knew what I did not know a handful of seconds before: my client did not need me to solve Life’s Biggest Questions, although I’m sure they would appreciate if I did so. My client needed the space to ask the questions at all. My client’s partner reached to squeeze their hand as we sat in a quiet so deafening the sound machine outside my door seemed inadequate. It was the first silence after 25 minutes of back and forth, of who said or did what, of a recursive dance between two people absolutely exhausted by it.
Esther Perel asks the question “Where should we begin?” throughout much of her work. As a newly minted therapist, I have begun a process of answering this question as it applies to my work with clients. For me, therapy begins in the micro-moments, in the data between the details. The moment you stroke the hair back from your eyes. Your 20-yard-stare as trauma details unfold. The turn towards or away from your partner. The look up and to the right as you try to find the words to describe an experience. The absence of acknowledgement from one partner at the end of a long bid for reassurance from the other. Your silence after an extraordinary question. These moments create the space of reflection, contemplation, and growth. They foster a sense of understanding about what cannot be known through repeated attempts to solve our problems in the same ways we always have. They decode the content which mires us and brings clients to therapy at all.
What does it feel like to know we cannot have all the answers? Terrifying. Micro-moments give me, the therapist, the ability to help you develop insight needed to make peace with not knowing while also providing reassurance you are not alone. Even I wonder where to go from here. That is part of being human, isn’t it?
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