Jeffrey Kottler on Being a Therapist
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The Therapist's Experience
|Rebecca Aponte:||In your book, On Being a Therapist, you talk about some of the challenges and personal fulfillment that come from being a therapist, as well as the need of therapists to embrace the ambiguity of human experiences and the process of the therapy itself. What did you mean by all that?|
|Jeffrey Kottler:||I don't know.|
|RA:||That's a great answer!|
|JK:||I've just always been fascinated with the therapist's experience of doing therapy—what that feels like, how it changes us, how it penetrates us. I see the job, or the profession, or the calling, as just being this amazing gift for those of us that are privileged enough to do this work, because of these gems and things that we learn. And I know there are people who do therapy differently than this, but it's just a very weird, strange enterprise, therapy. I mean, trying to describe to your own children what you do is bizarre.|
I don't really have a lot of faith that we understand how therapy works.I don't really have a lot of faith that we understand how therapy works. One thing we're clear about is that therapy does work, but there are just so many competing explanations for that. With that said, what the client brings to us in a session is so overwhelming and so full of content and feeling that we can't hold it. So we have to find ways to live with that—to live with all this uncertainty, and all this mystery, and all this ambiguity. At the same time, our clients are demanding answers and solutions, preferably in this session—if necessary they'll come back a second time, but that's about it. Part of the job of inducting someone into the role of being a good client is teaching them a little bit of patience, and teaching them how to work the process. But all the while we're saying this to our clients, we're talking to ourselves, too, about how to live with the ambiguity of our own lives, trying to make sense of what it is that we do and what we're on this planet to do.
I find it more than a little hysterical, more than a little amusing, the different perceptions that therapists and clients have about their sessions. A couple of my Ph.D. students have done qualitative interviews where they interview the therapist and interview the client, and it's as if there were different people in the room, or different sessions. That's the thing that's so crazy: that we can't even tell when we did a good job. The session is over and we're flying high, and the client never comes back again! What's that about? We delude ourselves: "Oh, they must be cured. It was so good they didn't need to come back!" I remember Albert Ellis told me that in the interview for Bad Therapy: "When they don't come back, it's just because they don't need it anymore; they're cured." Well, good on you that you can delude yourself with that.
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Copyright © 2009 Psychotherapy.net. All rights reserved. Published April 2009.
Jeffrey A. Kottler, PhD is Professor of the Department of Counseling at California State University, Fullerton. He has worked as a teacher, counselor, therapist, and researcher in a variety of settings including hospitals, mental health centers, schools, crisis centers, clinics, universities, corporations, and private practice. Dr. Kottler has been a Fulbright Scholar in Iceland and Peru, as well as having lectured extensively around the world. He is also President and Co-Founder of the Empower Nepali Girls Foundation which provides educational scholarships for lower caste girls in rural Nepal who would otherwise be unable to attend school.
Dr. Kottler has authored 80 books in psychology, education, and counseling. His books are directed towards a number of different audiences: 1) for practicing therapists and counselors about the inner world of helping others; 2) for teachers and educators about the human dimensions of helping; and 3) for students in education and helping professions. Kottler is also known for his provocative books about contemporary issues and human struggles, such as the forbidden world of what people do when they're alone, the phenomenon of crying and what it means in people's lives, the inner world of murder and the reasons why people are vicariously attracted to violence.
Some of Dr. Kottler's books for therapists include: On Being a Therapist, The Imperfect Therapist: Learning From Failure in Therapeutic Practice, Compassionate Therapy: Working With Difficult Clients, and The Assassin and the Therapist: An exploration of Truth in Psychotherapy and in Life.Rebecca Aponte was the Operations Manager for Psychotherapy.net from 2008-2012. She earned her BA in Psychology from Holy Names University in Oakland, California and is currently working toward her PhD in Counseling Psychology at Colorado State University. She was heavily involved in research on cult behavior and apocalyptic beliefs that was presented at the 2012 Pacific Sociology Association Annual Conference, with several publications in the works.Victor Yalom, PhD is the founder, CEO and resident cartoonist of Psychotherapy.net. He also maintains a part-time practice in individual, group and couples therapy in San Francisco and Mill Valley. He has conducted workshops in existential-humanistic and group therapy in the US, Mexico, and China, and also leads ongoing consultation groups for therapists.
• Describe Kottler's perspective on how therapists' beliefs about how therapy work can inhibit their professional development.
• Identify aspects of Kottler's personality that shape the therapist and teacher he has become.
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