The Path to No Path


Therapy is not a matter of mere 'problem solving' – it is learning, exploring, clearing out the garbage. It can be hard, difficult and painful work. Yet, done well, it is exhilarating.

I once read a description of a 'case' in a text book on counselling. (This was “The Skilled Helper”, by Gerard Egan, subtitled “A Problem-Management Approach to Helping”) The 'client' had suffered burn-out at work, and she had turned to counselling for help.

The counsellor helped her to come to the decision to train to work in a different, but related field. At the end of the description, the outcome was successful – the 'client' had started in a new job, in the same line of work as the previous job, but in a more supervisory role, and was happy with it.

I pointed out to the person who had recommended the book to me that most people are happy with their new job, at least at first, and asked him several times why this case description made no mention of doing any work on the reasons for burn-out. He could not, or would not, answer this. Yet it seems to me that the most important issue here is how the 'client' can alter her approach to life so that she does not burn out again.

I added that, as the issue of burn-out had not been addressed during her counselling sessions, it seemed highly probable to me that she would not consider that counselling could help her if she were to suffer burn-out again in the future.

Rather than a happy, successful outcome, I considered that her counsellor had failed her. He might as well have told the client, five minutes into the first and only session, to simply change her job. Case closed.

But did the client need to go to a counsellor just for such simple advice? A moment's thought during a tea-break would have sufficed! (This thinking might go like: “Oh dear me, I used to love this job, but I really can't cope with it any more. What can I do? Perhaps I should find another job like this one. But that wouldn't be much better, would it? Perhaps a more senior post in this line of work would be better. After all, I do have plenty of experience of this job, and telling others how to do it would be so much easier than doing it myself. And it would pay better, too. All I need is some extra training, and I could go on a course to obtain this.”)

If all you want is help with problem-solving, Egan's approach has a great deal to offer. However, I personally sought infinitely loftier goals, profound goals, when I decided to go to therapy.

I wanted to understand why it was that I felt so miserable so much of the time. Various people had offered me advice which I felt I could not use: If I felt lonely, the thing to do was to make friends, perhaps try some amateur dramatics. Or find myself a wife.

But such advice seemed to me to be superficial – it did not address the emptiness I felt inside, or my fears, or my insecurity; such advice did not answer the question of “how” to do what I was advised.

Besides, I felt that I needed active support – mere advice was not enough. I also felt that there were many things I needed to learn, even if I did not know what these things might be.

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If you should wish to contact me about anything you have read here, especially if you feel strongly for or against what you have read, or if you feel that something is missing, I offer you an opportunity to share.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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