By: Alissa Klugh, MS, LPC
It’s not very often that I get to address the loved ones of my clients because so many things hold me back: confidentiality, lack of contact, inability to share without a release of information, all that super serious stuff. But, I am taking this opportunity to do so, now, because I can address all the loved ones, at once.
I want to share something with you about relationships, because your loved one comes to me on a weekly of bi-weekly basis and shares some of their most difficult moments with me. I understand that these may be situations you know about, in full detail, and other times, not at all. I am privy to the most impactful moments in your loved one’s life, and for that I am grateful.
To the loved ones of my clients:
Your loved one is likely here because of you.
Okay, don’t take that in the wrong way, please. What I mean is: Most of the individuals who walk through my door, first start therapy because their loved one (mothers, spouses, brothers, or children, etc) have asked them to do so. You ask this of your loved one because you have noticed that something is not “right” or things seem “off” with them, and you want to help them get “better.” Well, I appreciate the push that got your loved on through the door.
From a therapist’s viewpoint, when therapy is about someone else, progress does not always get where we want it to be. I can only hope that, at some point in time, the therapy starts to be about my clients, in their eyes, where they are seeking their own answers and understanding the importance of their self-growth. And I am a vessel which sits alongside your loved one, as they discover that growth. It is a beautiful process.
Therapy is not about fixing people.
I have a hard time when I have had loved ones tell me that they want me to “fix what is wrong” with my client. I want you to know that my role in therapy is not to fix but to understand what is going on, both now and previously, that has contributed to this point in time. I listen. I give perspective. I show empathy. I encourage new ideas. I show respect and admiration for change. I help people find their own answers and see characteristics and qualities within themselves that they have never seen before. I assist in providing hopefulness. I cannot make anyone do anything. It is all about freedom of choice. I shed a new light on the future, but that is 100% done due to the hard work that your loved one puts in, each week.
Being on the outside is challenging.
While your loved one goes off to therapy, you are being asked to sit at home (or in the waiting room) and hope that your loved one is in good hands. I can assure you that your loved one is in the hands of someone who is grateful for their presence and their return. Each day, when your loved one comes through my door, we each have our own responsibility. Mine is to be open, actively listen, to provide a safe environment for sharing, and to attempt to provide insights, while your loved ones share, gain new perspective, and potentially make progress. Where does this leave you, the loved one(s)?…
I ask this of you, loved ones of my clients:
Continue to support them. Show them the love they deserve. Don’t give them a hard time because their progress is not where you think it should be. Progress is relative and it is not necessarily quantifiable. It is something that takes time – sometimes steps forward, then backward, before finding the true direction they are meant to head.
During this time, it is important for you to stay active. Encourage your loved one to share with you their progress, what they’re learning and discovering about themselves, and how you can assist. Sometimes they may be hesitant to share, and other times, they may be incredibly open; remember that this is okay, either way. Sharing with the therapist is hard enough, so expecting them to delve back into their therapy session can be a challenge. Don’t push. They may not have the words, right now. If they want to share, then let them know that you will be there to listen, when (and if) they are ready.
Your role: show your gratitude. Let them know that you are proud of their return to therapy and inform them when you notice little changes. Tell them you are proud of them. Encourage the positive movements that you observe, tell them that you care. Ask them how you can better show your support. They will more than likely have that answer for you.
Don’t forget, you may start to see your loved one doing different things that you may not understand. Perhaps he/she has started to communicate with you differently, going against your typical expectations. Guess what? This might be them trying to take steps toward their progress. I ask you to inquire about these differences in a supportive way. Making change is incredibly difficult, and if your loved one does not have your support, then they may not continue to try to make adjustments to better their lives. To better your life, together.
Keeping a supportive stance can be difficult when you are unsure of their direction of treatment. I encourage you, please do not mock their progress by asking the dreaded question, “Oh did your therapisttell you to say that?” The answer to that is ‘maybe.’ Whether it be something that the therapist suggested or an item that they discovered on their own, the answer for you, as the loved one, is not to make comments that could make your loved one feel worse, as though they should not try new things, or like he/she should feel any certain way about their new attempts at growth.
Remember: everyone grows differently and at a different pace.
Each step is a step in the right direction, and your help and support in being “there” for your loved one is key. Compassion, empathy, and involvement are so crucial from the loved one’s perspective. I only have an hour each week with your loved one, so my safe space and empathy can only go so far. I appreciate that I get to spend that time with your loved one, to challenge them, support growth and change, and to be the listening ear that they need while they work through each difficult moment. And I also appreciate you, loved one of my clients. Please remember that.
After my time with my clients, it’s their loved ones who spend the majority of time with them. Make this time worthwhile. Care for them. Love them. Support them. Show them the compassion that they deserve for making such a difficult decision to change. I may start the process, but it is up to the client and their loved ones to maintain the change.
This open letter is a way in which Alissa is sharing important insights to the loved ones of clients through perspectives she has gained throughout her experience. Everyone experiences therapy, differently. Keep in mind that you, your loved one, and many others can have varying perspectives on the therapeutic process. This letter is, in no way, written to a specific client, but rather a general understanding that Alissa would like others to take into consideration about participating in treatment and does not necessarily reflect the perspectives of other individuals in the practice.
If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with Alissa, or another therapist in the practice, please click on our appointment page, here.