Therapist as intruder

I gave a lecture recently where I showed work with a fragile woman who expressed fear that I would ask questions she did not want to answer. When I said that was projection, an audience member wondered if it was true. “After all,” he said, “we want to know what is going on in her, and in a sense we are intruders.”

In response, I said that we have no right to intrude on patients’ inner lives. We are here to do therapy, not commit a crime of breaking and entering. I can ask a question but if the patient does not want to answer it, I have to respect her wish not to reveal what she does not want to reveal.

“But we want to know,” he said. I replied, “Actually, no.” Therapy cannot be about my desire, but about her desire. If she desires to explore her inner life, I am willing to help her. This is her life and her therapy. Therapy cannot be driven by my desire but hers. I am just the servant of her desire.

This is not a matter or technique or a way to “trick” the patient into revealing herself. It’s a matter of ethics, our profound respect for her autonomy regarding her life and boundaries. Trying to make a patient talk about what she does not want to talk about is a form of emotional rape. So many of our patients were raped physically or emotionally. They fear we will do the same. So it’s important that we respect their wishes.

Th: “I have no right to ask you to talk about something you don’t want to talk about. I have no right to ask you to do something you don’t want to do. If this is not something you want to do, I have to respect your wishes. After all, this is your therapy, not mine.”

We are listeners, not intruders.

 


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