So, we’ve had an e-mail exchange – and sometimes this is enough to point someone in the right direction of alternative services, when I believe these to be more appropriate to their needs.
If we are to take things further we now need to speak and arrange to meet up. I always prefer to speak directly with the person themselves and not to a friend or relative – however well-meaning they are. Their own voice gives me many more clues, and perhaps questions, about them.
If they have a foreign accent I can be slightly distracted wondering where it’s from, and about their cultural background, experiences and expectations of working with someone of a different nationality and culture.
I also wonder …What is their voice quality like? Do they seem timid or confident? Do they take over the conversation, or are they waiting to be guided by me? Do they meander ‘all around the houses’ trying to explain themselves ‘perfectly’? Do they mispronounce words due to their anxiety and tension – and expectation of being judged by me in some way? Do they seem open and willing to explore themselves, or have they been advised or directed by a spouse, partner, social worker, solicitor or others to seek help that they don’t personally want (or will be willing to invest in)? Do they seem passive and compliant using phrases like ‘I’m sorry to be a nuisance… you’ve probably got much more deserving people to see than me… I don’t want to waste your time… I’m probably just being silly/stupid and it’s nothing really…I’ll understand if you don’t want to see/work with me… I doubt anything will work for me…I’m a lost cause.’
Others might project an air of superiority, and challenge me to somehow prove to them that I am the best therapist and thereby deserving of their time and money (which is a clear indication of their narcissism and an early warning of the likely outcome of our contact – should they even deign to attend!). Things have got to be really bad for a narcissist, or even a highly left-brained person, to seek out or attend therapy or other form of psychological help. They dread ‘feelings’ and exposure of their deeply hidden vulnerability.
Others may seem very sceptical, suspicious and afraid that they might somehow be sucked into an emotionally dependent relationship, where they might become too raw and vulnerable, or be exploited – I hope my credentials and professionalism reduce such fears.
Our conversation gives me many clues as to what could underlie the ‘issue’ they are seeking help with – and the part that their own character and personality might play in this.
Further pointers include …What questions do they ask of me, if any? How flexible are they willing to be about the date and time of a first meeting? Do they seem reluctant to attend in spite of their initial enquiry? How am I feeling as I speak with them? Is my body feeling light and open, or drained, or attacked, or hesitant? All of my own bodily responses tell me something else about them – and more importantly about how other people might also react to them. It’s vital that I am clear which reactions are from my own history or future expectations, and which ones are from my immediate responses to them and the way they ‘present’ themselves to me.
I’ve had a few people who’ve asked me ‘how’ I work…which is a broad and interesting question. I could just reply with a ramble about my years of training and the theories I have integrated into my own personal style, my fees, payment etc. – and years ago I did tend to go through such a ramble – to clarify what I ‘thought’ their question was about. I’ve since realised that it’s more helpful to ask them to tell me what aspect of how I work intrigues them…and each time it’s turned out that in the past they’ve had a form of counselling which they found meandering and aimless, or it missed their needs (and was therefore a costly waste of money) and which didn’t give them any real personal insight or tangible ways to change. (Interestingly, it was this very client complaint which prompted me to create ‘The Ripple Effect’ Process and Psycho-Emotional-Education – to share much more information, insights and skills with a wider audience, and offer them a brief, inexpensive and effective form of help)
When they then feel safe, optimistic and enthusiastic enough then an appointment is arranged and boundaries established around the time of attendance; what happens in the event of them being late or not turning up; my address and the parking available or directions from public transport.
I write down a few notes after our call – ideas and questions that have popped into my mind.
Sometimes odd words and images jump into my mind too, and I also jot these down – waiting to see if they will later fit or not. My curiosity is aroused and I’m keen to see what they look like and how they dress and present themselves in person. I’ll share this with you next time.