Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Tao of Therapy

Things are progressing well at the camp I work at for kids with Asperger's Syndrome. (See previous posts, and this one will make more sense.) Once again, I've learned that the relationship can do most of the work of healing.

Many years ago, Carl Rogers astutely and repeatedly insisted that people basically will heal themselves when they are in the context of a healthy therapeutic relationship. Subsequent research has strongly supported this; the school of therapy used affects the outcome far less than the qualities of the professional in the relationship (as perceived by the client).

During the first week or so of camp, I was, Thinkers will remember, a little distressed by all the obscene language, digusting references and endless physical wrestling. (Not that we wanted to outlaw all of this behavior. A little of it in teenage boys is to be expected.) Today, incidents of that kind are less frequent, and eager participation is up noticeably. Some of this probably flows from kids getting used to the new people they were suddenly supposed to hang out with five hours a day for six weeks in a row. Also, one of the prime instigators was going through a medication change and might now have settled in with his new prescriptions.

But I think that the biggest factor of all was simply time -- spent in a group that is framed around fun, creative activities and mutual respect. We counselors work quite hard to respond to the campers in a positive way, looking for the campers' strengths in any situation, no matter what they do, or, for that matter, don't do.

They have seemed to begin to understand that we mean it. They're so used to being ostracized for their different behavior (unusual tone of voice, pedantic speech patterns, obsessions with one particular interest, physical awkwardness -- all visible in many teens, butfar more so in most Aspies). Perhaps they were simply pre-empting our expected criticism with negative behavior, to maintain a sense of control of the social situation, a sense that is rare for them. They come to us already bruised, and perhaps if we continue to handle them with care, they'll flourish even more. Time will tell.

I experienced a similar curve at my internship at the college counseling center this year. I charged out of the gate determined to make a difference in my clients' lives -- in a brief 10 sessions at most. By half-way through the year, I realized that, while I was having a positive effect a reasonable amount of the time, I was putting out way too much effort. When I relaxed and trusted the intelligence and instincts of the person sitting across from me -- and, most of all, the process of the relationship -- clients actually improved more quickly and effectively. And *they* were the ones, appropriately, who did the work, although I might instigate it here and there, or keep it on track.

It's certainly not the same thing as laying back. In some ways, I'm more tuned in more of the time using this approach. But it's a relaxed alertness. I love this discovery (even the second time around), because it means that I don't have to do anything other than what comes naturally to me in order to be helpful. I listen, I reflect or comment or react, I give respect, I am honest and genuine. And they see that, feel that -- and start acting the same way, especially toward themselves. And that, of course, is when the improvements really start, and are most likely to last.

No comments: