It’s almost amusing to look into my client’s face during an initial session when I tell them that I am not the expert in the therapeutic space but they are. The usual facial expression then says something like: “WTF, I pay you good money to be here, and now you are telling me you are not the expert.”
I can see that this news can initially cause shock and confusion. Especially new clients who have never used therapy before have high hopes that the therapist - "their expert" or "superhero with invisible cape" - will put them out of their misery and make them feel better. Usually such expectations help me to see where the client stands and how they perceive themselves in their life situation. Clients who find themselves at this point in their personality development often share the fear of taking self-responsibility. They struggle to feel self-trust and identify as the ‘done to’ when life presents difficult situations. It is only understandable that clients at this stage tend to hand over power to someone who seems to have more confidence in themselves and appears responsible - in this case - the therapist.
Not to take the power away from the client but to give it right back to them is an incredibly important, yet scary, first ‘lesson’ clients make when entering a person-centred therapy space. This is a crucial moment for the client’s therapeutic process as they can make the first experience of being trusted even if they don’t trust themselves. “I trust you to know best and I am here to work out with you what that 'best' looks like for you.” Although such a statement and approach can be very intimidating for the client, from personal experience I would say that 9 out of 10 clients understand and welcome this approach to therapy because they feel that it is the only way for them to finally take control of their lives and feelings and take responsibility for them, rather than avoiding them and delegating them to others.
Funnily, as I write this, the song ‘Hero’ by Family of the Year blares out of my speaker. Let me paraphrase it for you:
I don’t wanna be your hero. I don’t wanna be a big man.
That’s a bit how I feel when you try to give me the responsibility to fight your demons. I don’t wanna be your hero. I don’t wanna disempower you. I want to empower you. In fact, I would suck as a therapist, if I identified as a hero in the therapeutic space and felt pleasure in rescuing you. I would completely miss the point of my work as a therapist, which I believe is to assist the client in developing more understanding, self-awareness and self-ownership for themselves. Consequently, whether you like it or not: You are the hero here. You are the expert of your own life and should you not know this by now, then that’s okay. That’s what the therapist is here for; to remind you of exactly that.
Clients who want their therapist to be the expert usually have a strong "external locus of evaluation". In other words, such people place great value on the judgement, input and opinion of their external social environment. They are usually masters at fitting in and pleasing others because they did not have access to deep caring and understanding when they were young. Because their opinions and unique ways of being were not nurtured the way they needed to be, they have learned that their opinions and unique ways of being simply do not count or were not good enough to be heard, seen, accepted and celebrated.
The aim of therapy is to support the client to move from an external to an internal evaluative focus. Only when the client can experience the world through their own point of reference can they become more authentic, connected to themselves and finally experience themselves as the expert of their own life.
...AND WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE?
Do you perceive yourself as the hero and expert of your own life? If yes, what is it that makes you feel that way? If no, what is that makes you feel incapable to feel that way and what do you need to change to feel more empowered, in charge and responsible for your own life and way of being? Remember that your past does not define who you are, but gives you the choice to be who you want to be.