Accentuating the Positive

I haven’t heard it in a number of years, but every once in a while, a client will ask why we talk only about “what’s wrong” in therapy. It’s a valid question. Australian blogger Evan Hadkins, who frequently comments here on After Psychotherapy, has chided me for over-emphasizing the painful aspects of the work I do; the occasional site visitor will accuse me of “pathologizing” everything, rather than trying to view certain behaviors in a more positive or “normal” light. I’ve been thinking about the various reasons why I (and other therapists) don’t accentuate the positive in our work more than we do. What follows are a number of explanations, each of which contains an element of truth.

1. Unhappiness Feels More Meaningful

You might recall that Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina begins with a famous quotation: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In other words, novelists don’t write books about happy families because after you’ve described their experience one time, everything that comes after will be repetitive. The intricacies of misery are so much more interesting than satifaction, both in books and in therapy; happiness and contentment, after a time, become boring.

At the end of the first half of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, all of the characters have arrived at a state of happily-ever-after. Act Two opens with a melodically repetitive and uninteresting song about how happy they all supposedly are when, in fact, they are bored. Sondheim’s message is that going “into the woods” — focusing on what’s missing in our lives and searching for what might make us happy — is what actually makes life meaningful. In other words, it’s the journey, not the destination.

I always say that successful therapy comes to an end, not when clients are healthy and happy, but when they’re able to continue the work of self-exploration alone. In part, this means continually discovering something new about the ways we deceive ourselves in order to avoid pain or unpleasant truths. A journey that focuses exclusively on defense mechanisms and self-deception would be far too “negative,” of course, but probably a lot more interesting than one that continually emphasizes the good things. Candide while living in his “best of all possible worlds” was a bore.

2. Theoretical Emphasis on Pathology

While all developmental theories have a model of what normal is supposed to look like, they spend far more time on the way things can go wrong; in our training, we focus primarily on pathology — those deviations from the norm. Beginning with Freud, psychodynamic theorists have devoted countless volumes to the defense mechanisms we use and the pathological symptoms they produce and very little to describing a picture of mental health. As trainees, we’re taught to identify the features that characterize particulars disorders; the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the APA is nothing but a compendium of all the ways things can go wrong. How to Identify the Healthy Personality is a book that has yet to be written.

3. Resistance to Growth and Development

Human beings, by and large, are creatures of habit who resist change. In my experience, clients are rarely unambivilanet when confronted with evidence of growth and greater capacity. Sometimes awareness of change brings up the idea of treatment ending and separation from the therapist. Growth and maturation often connect to ideas about the passage of time: we may prefer to focus instead on everything that’s wrong and hasn’t changed in order to sustain the belief that time isn’t actually passing, leading us inevitably toward death. For clients who long for a corrective emotional experience — that is, to regress to an infantile state and be cared for by a loving therapist — growth and greater capacity can feel like deprivation if it means they’re better able to look after themselves alone.

4. Perfectionism

Lately, I’ve heard myself saying to clients something like — “Wait, back up. What you were just describing was an improvement. You need to stop and celebrate that.” My efforts to accentuate the positive, to focus on evidence of growth or change, is usually met with a kind of skepticism, mostly because the client is focused on what’s still wrong. Therapists and clients alike can fall prey to this tendency — to miss the small steps that signal incremental growth because we’re looking at all the work yet to be done. Given how much I talk to my clients about the way change actually occurs — bit by bit over time — I’m trying to acknowledge and “celebrate” those steps as clients take them.

5. Your Growth Means I’m Out of a Job

I mostly mean this tongue-in-cheek, but especially for therapists in highly competitive markets, referrals may be infrequent; when a client feels ready to go it alone, that can mean a loss of income that might not be easily replaced. For this reason, a professional with a full practice and a waiting list usually makes a better, more impartial therapist. (As a struggling young professional, I tended to interpret as “resistance” mentions of termination or dissatisfaction with treatment much more than I do now.) Emphasizing positive signs of growth might feel unconsciously threatening because it could mean the client no longer needs us.

For all these reasons, therapists and clients tend to focus more on the negative than to accentuate the positive. Lately, I’ve been trying to combat that tendency (are you listening, Evan?) and to identify the small steps, the signs of growth, the positive emotional experiences as they come up. I’m no Pollyanna, but much more often than I before, I find myself saying things like, “Good for you! That’s definitely different from what you used to do.” I especially like pointing out to clients the ways in which they are brave, facing the difficult emotions and experiences they used to defend against.

But more often than not, I still find myself at a loss for what to say next.

By Joseph Burgo

Joe is the author and the owner of, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.


  1. It’s true, unfortunately. After having a good week – less “stuff” going on and I have a therapy appointment I think to myself “What am I going to talk about?” I am sometimes able to fill an hour talking about the positive experiences that I have had, the improvements in my mood and such but then I begin thinking about what was wrong with my week – what do I still need to work on. Yes, I may be feeling better at the moment – but what’s next. And although it’s great to be feeling better it doesn’t always leave you much to talk about and you leave an appointment thinking that you haven’t really accomplished anything.

    1. I know what you mean. It’s funny how talking about progress can feel like you’re wasting time. Seems crazy, doesn’t it?

      1. It is crazy. However, as I thought about it, about pain, it reminded me about the 2 C-sections that I’ve had. I remember that it was the most painful physical experiences I have ever had. Now that it is healed I don’t feel the actual pain. The same seems to be true with depression. I know that it’s a hell that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, I remember the agony – but once the pain is gone I seem to forget the issues that need working on. Once you no longer feel the pain – the wound has healed, even for the time being, it seems that you no longer have to work at repairing it.
        Our dog recently had surgery to remove a lump. In the beginning you take great care to make sure it doesn’t get infected, you clean it, put antibiotic cream on it, change the bandage and keep him from licking it. As it begins to heal there is no longer the need to pay as much time looking after it. Near the end of the healing process you simply watch it to make sure the stiches haven’t come out and that he doesn’t lick it. We don’t stop being so concerned about the wound until it’s healed and then we forget about it all together – like it never happened because he’s back to his original health. We don’t tell people about how he no longer has stiches – we talk about what he went through. So even if it’s not our own discomfort – we seem to focus on pain and recovery rather than wellness because even with our pets – wellness is boring.

        1. Nice analogy, Sheila. But I wonder if we tend to take the good things for granted rather than appreciating them, always focusing on what’s missing or wrong until it, well, isn’t. It seems unrealistic to expect that we would continue feeling grateful for the fact that, say, our dog has returned to health.

          1. I don’t know if gratitude has as much to do with this as one may think. You would be hard pressed to find many people as grateful as I am (I had a psychiatrist imply that my middle name was grateful).
            I am grateful, truly grateful for so many things I could not list them here. I give thanks every night before I fall asleep for all of my blessings, and yet it hasn’t remedied my depression. I get tired of therapists telling me to simply be grateful. I have been through so much in the last 20 years that I think it would be impossible to come out the other side without a heart of gratitude.
            However, I do see your point, (I’m not upset in the least by your comment)for the most part we travel through our days with our heads someplace else. We don’t take the time to give thanks for the simple things in life – the air we breathe, the warmth of the sun after a week of miserable weather, the help that arrives to support us after months of asking for it, the safe arrival of our family home for dinner, the time to watch billowy clouds float in the sky.
            It would be a nice world though, wouldn’t it, if we could spend our days observing everything that we have to be grateful for – particularly since last Friday. Some people’s pain will never pass.
            I think I had a point to all of this – but I think perhaps that I have missed it.

  2. Reminds me of what I think whenever I go up a mountain: Look at the progress you’ve made, not what is left. But to go up you need to look up because if you look down you are pretty much walking up a mountain backwards, unless you bend right over and hold your ankles and walk up like that. That never ends well.

    Maybe there is also a resistance to happiness in the client. I have this resistance, I suspect because my mother wasn’t always supportive of my happiness and I prefered to punish myself than to be punished by her. How dare I be happy and not her? Ohhh the slave dynamics….

  3. I don’t know what’s going on in your mind, Joe, but you seem angry with us [your audience].

    From what you’ve written here on your blog, it seems like you had an image in your mind about how you would feel, or how life might be after your book was published…. a certain set of expectations. When things turned out differently, you experienced intense loss of hope when your expectations were not met. Now you are possibly attempting to direct that disappointment away from yourself.

    I am not expecting you to publish this comment-I know it’s off topic. It’s just that I’ve been there before and can empathize. I’m sure you know how the dissolution of hope that comes with that degree of disappointment can escalate to depression. I hope you are ok.

    Being passionately hopeful can, unfortunately, be paradoxical.

    1. I’ve been scratching my head, trying to figure out what about that post made you think I was angry. All I could see was the bit about Evan Hadkins chiding me. It might help to know that Evan and I have become quite friendly over the last year, he reviewed my book and my asking if he was listening was meant to be a sort of joke.

      But you’re right about the problem of being overly hopeful. It can definitely lead to major disappointment and even depression. You’ll be glad to hear that I’m well over my initial disappointment and book sales are going better than I expected.

  4. Hello Dr. Joseph,

    You don’t need to say anything “next”. As you stated earlier in the post about successful therapy, where your voice ends their self sustained exploration begins.

    Your job is their journey, just let them enjoy it as you help to reinforce it.

    Positive Psychology is by far one of my favorite subject matters and I’m sure in my counseling career I will be heavily influenced by it.

  5. This may be your best post yet. Balanced, thorough, honest. My god, you even take a good long look at the issue of “unconscious fiscal convenience.” You’ve grown as a blogger over the last year. Well done.

  6. Point # 5, reminded me of the statement that “a mother`s job is to make herself superfluous”. And of a book that was published about psychotherapy some three or four decades ago, the undertitle read; Child rising in a new and better way.

    Somewhat off topic (or perhaps not): I also find myself thinking of moose mothers who turn away their yearlings when a new calf is born. ( A heartrending sight.)

  7. Hi Joseph, yes I’m listening.

    I agree that all the reasons you list are accurate.

    Reason 2 isn’t a terribly good one though. How to identify the healthy personality: well, firstly its the person not their ‘personality’ that is healthy; secondly it is by creative adjustment to their current situation, thirdly the book has been written – it is Perls, Hefferline and Goodman’s Gestalt Therapy (the theory section).

    A corollary of Reason 2 is that it is much easier to know what to oppose – the particular way a defense mechanism is used; and its removal will usually lead to some kind of elation or relief which is pleasurable and so validating.

    I’m unconvinced about happiness being a problem. Though this probably has to do with what is meant by “happiness”. I prefer to speak of acting from our core, authenticity, joy, creative calmness. And I’m pretty sure those creative artists didn’t seek out situations where they were frustrated and couldn’t do their work. And I think a psychotherapists tasks and interests are different to those of creative artists (a client is not a work or production to shaped for others interest and entertainment).

    As to 3. Change comes for acceptance; insistence builds resistance, attack brings defense. This is health not perverse. The model of therapy where the client follows the prescription of the therapist is usually incompatible with building autonomy I think.

    Re 5 – therapists job being to do themselves out of a job. This needs much innovation to be properly addressed. It leads to Krishnamurti’s point that adjustment to a sick society is no measure of health. And the therapy industry is integrated into a sickness promoting society. I don’t think there is much that individuals alone can do anything about this.

    I have another reason – 6. Which is more about how it is done perhaps. Emphasising the positive can be heard by clients as dismissing their current misery or the therapist not being interested them as they are; as the therapist wanting to shape them into someone else or wanting to avoid their pain (which may be true and after all it is a natural response to want to avoid pain).

    I’d be interested to hear what you think has lead you to emphasising the positive more lately. Also what comes when you stay with being at a loss.

    1. Thanks for the book reference, Evan. I agree with your reason number 6.

      I’m not sure why I’m emphasizing the positive more lately. I guess it’s because I think of the work as very long-term and it’s important that clients not feel they have to wait until the end to realize the benefits, that it’s not all or none but a process involving many incremental steps.

      If I stay with being at a loss, it can sometimes feel a little uncomfortable, but mostly I just keep listening and wait for the next moment of insight to arrive.

    2. I don’t know about those creative artists but, I’m pretty sure art involves the transformation of emotions (in particular) like frustration into their work.

      Some of the most awesome works came from the most depressed people. Not recommending depression, but. Michelangelo. Wow. Lost in his visual mind, escaping into fantasy, perhaps in response to the dissonance that he was working for an institution that still hates his kind (the fays)…..transformed into beautiful, timeless art.

      1. Hi anonymous, much depends on the word ‘transformation’.

        Being frustrated can be a block to creativity as well as material for it. There are ways to help artists get unblocked just as there are ways that therapists have to help clients get unstuck.

  8. Maybe no one has yet written How to Identify the Healthy Personality, but I did find a very useful definition of mental health in the article “The Efficacy of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy,” by Jonathan Shedler. The definition is basically a list of criteria from the Shedler-Westen Assessment Procedure. It’s at p. 106 of this pdf:
    I found it helpful to see which items really don’t describe me and which do, in greater or lesser degree. I figure I’ll quit therapy when I can put at least a small tick mark next to every item (and hope that won’t take all of the rest of my life). The article itself is also very interesting and, speaking of accentuating the positive, should make all of us feel better about what we’re doing. Do you know the article, Dr. Burgo?

  9. A great post, Joseph.
    Being in therapy, what stuck me the most in your post—and it’s far from being its central theme, of course—is that therapy’s corrective emotional experience is “to regress to an infantile state and be cared for by a loving therapist.” That’s a very difficult idea in and of itself. There’s a lot of resistance to even consider it as a possibility.
    Other than that, I have also been scratching my head to find what would make anybody think you were disappointed and angry toward your readers due to lost hopes about your book, but like yourself, I haven’t been able to find it.

  10. I`m a usual follower of your blog. Excuse me for some errors on the English, but i`m from Portugal;
    As a therapist i share your opinion that sometimes the focus of the pacient and therapist in the negative aspects of life is excessive;
    If the therapist focus too much of his attention and verbalizations on the negative aspects of life and personality of the client, there`s a chance of the client (specially the younger`s ) feel the therapist as someone threatning or persecutor.
    So over the years, i have learned the importance of interpretations directed to the part of the client mind that is able to produce change in his life and bring him some growth and maturity;

    In my opinion, one hardest challenges in the context of the therapeutic session is to achieve the balance between the moments when we listen to the negative aspects of the client life and the moments when we reinforce the little changes the client is able to achieve.

    1. Hi Rolando. I agree that it’s a big challenge. I suppose it’s a balance we therapists all strive to find but don’t always succeed. If you listen carefully, the client will offer small “corrections” along the way, letting you know when you’ve erred too far in one direction or another.

  11. The BBC have been broadcasting a radio programme in the UK called ‘The Archers’ for 60 years now. Plodding, interminable and celebrating the ordinary, it echoes normality with its fans often mocked for being boring.

    Characters like Jill and the late Phil Archer (who actually died on the job) were so happily married, it rendered them nauseating, forgettable. I had to look up both actor’s names their exchanges were so nice, so respectful, so dull for me as a listener. No real drama at all. What a yawn.

    My 94-year-old Grandma will say ‘I hope you never live through a war like me’. And in the next breath say that yes war was hell, but she never ‘felt so alive, so vital’. She’s not alone in that sentiment as a World War II survivor.

    Over the last 18 months with my therapist I have come to realise my family loves drama. It gives all its attention to the big, explosive emotions: fear, anger, envy, guilt and shame, and none to the quieter emotional places we arrive at like love, peacefulness and trust. In fact I never learned to visit these quiet places with them. And so I ended up in therapy.

    I now see the Big Stuff always felt so much more important. Certainly it was easier to feel since it hit like a wave. I was bonded to my parents by floods of anger, fear and guilt. My senses were so overwhelmed and blunted as to render any of the quieter, smaller emotions silent, like listening for whispers in a storm. Therapy for me was in part learning to manage these floods of emotion, but also about valuing and listening to the quieter places in me and others, as well as to placing the fear, anger and guilt where it belonged. Usually with others.

    As for Jill Archer? the late Phil Archer? I would very much like them as friends: their usually balanced approach and careful constancy would be of great value to me. But as drama…well it’s just a little too boring.

    1. I know what you mean. I think drama is tiresome, and there’s nothing more tedious than the acquaintance who’s always undergoing some crisis.

      1. So very true. Even more tiresome in a family. In an acquaintance, after all, it *might* be colorful and entertaining, at least for a while. But in a family it creates chaos throughout the system, even for those who don’t want it.

  12. Interesting.

    As the client, in therapy, I do sometimes feel the pressure to dredge up a “problem” to talk about. As if happiness is not enough: there needs to be “progress”.

    On the other hand, when I’m wearing my “therapist” hat, I often feel that for my clients, happiness is just a hairs breadth away, if they could just stop doing that other thing. So when they report having had a good week, I want them to talk about what that was like for them, how it felt, what it meant

  13. Thnaks for this post.

    ‘For clients who long for a corrective emotional experience — that is, to regress to an infantile state and be cared for by a loving therapist — growth and greater capacity can feel like deprivation if it means they’re better able to look after themselves alone’. I think this is what I’m experiencing with my therapist at the moment and have been struggling to put into words. I’m not sure I want to admit it though in case she pulls away from me. I can feel the strong desire to move forward but the longing to stay ‘young’ in the hopes my therapist will take care of me is so much stronger. Even though I know it won’t happn – at least in the way I want. It’s very frustrating. I’ve been trying to find the words to explain it to myself for the last few days so thank you for putting words to my feelings. I hope I can get past this.

    1. I think it’s a lot like the ambivalence kids feel as they come to the end of adolescence and have to face adulthood. It helps to know that your therapist won’t abandon you but will help you to make the transition.

  14. I agree with the above post that time spent focusing on what’s good in life can seem like a waste during therapy and there is something bizarre about that. Personally I (and probably most) go to therapy for help with the pain and difficulties in life rather than to talk about the positive aspects; I wouldn’t go to therapy if I was deeply happy and content. While having a balanced perspective on life is important, I think focusing on the positive can be a defense against deeper exploration ( I think of the person who describes an idyllic and perfect childhood or current intimate relationship) in some cases whereas for others who are more pessimistic and negative I think a reality check highlighting the good parts of life are really important.

    1. I guess the point is to have a realistic view, neither idealized nor exclusively focused on what’s wrong.

  15. What exactly ‘the positive’ is has always been a mystery to me. CBT and other blunt think systems offer it a vulgar subjectivity. Even in the depths of Lacan, little object a/ jouissance, tells us of something experienced as positive, but not of ‘the positive. It seems to me that there are qualities of memorialisation in ‘the positive’. Don’t we start thinking about positivity post the onset of some happy mood, event, occasion? The subjective moment reviewing its own subjective proclivities perhaps. I don’t know.

    1. I don’t know either. I guess I mean “positive” as in the emotions/experiences that don’t pose a problem or create pain — what feels “right” rather than what feels “wrong.”

  16. Dear Dr. Burgo,
    I also feel like this is a great post. It brings clarity and also more contemplation of this subject. One comment I have is that there is negative, and then there is negative, and then there is negative. In my family of origin it was not okay to be negative in many ways, anger was bad, sadness was bad, depression was bad, crying was bad etc… But my mother’s go to emotion was usually anger, she just couldn’t express herself in any other way. So there was this sort of really negative emotional violence that was tolerated. There are things that are negative in the world which I believe we all should strive to, I guess, not emphasize, like actual physical violence or abuse; but not everything negative, is negative. In other words, I think the word has many different meanings and they can get confused and smashed together. I will never forget my first real therapy when I experienced someone tolerating, even caring and understanding some of my negative feelings. Just simple words like “well no wonder your angry at your mom” are such a revelation when you really do not know it is okay to be angry sometimes. This accepting of negativity was so healing-so POSITIVE. Also the realization that looking at my pain and negativity could lead to growth. This gives pain and suffering some meaning, which makes it so much easier to bear. So I for one, thank God for all you negative loving therapists. We need you all the more these days when suffering is so rampant yet so denied. I think truth and love is what resonates, whether it be negative or positive.

    1. It’s a really good point you’re making. I personally don’t view many emotions as “negative,” but that’s the way most people think about them. To me, anger, envy, jealousy and even hatred are just part of the emotional landscape, not to be avoided but simply acknowledged. I think it’s enormously relieving for a therapist simply to recognize and accept these feelings in clients, as you yourself have found.

    2. Thank you for the astute observation…you give me hopes since i have been having problems lately due to my ‘negatives’ not acknowledged or scorned by people close to me…They expect me to look at my ‘positives’ and ignore my ‘negatives’.I rather not,why waste time,i need the time to deal with the ‘negatives’…

  17. I’ve only recently discovered your blog these past few months, and I am enjoying it a lot. I appreciate the honesty in your self-disclosure, and your willingness to address the criticism that flies your way from that. I mostly appreciate the fact that those squirmish topics you so candidly divulge, resonate (albeit uncomfortably at first) with me as paralelling my experience both as a client and as a therapist.
    Keep up the good work 🙂

  18. Dr. Burgo,
    Thanks so much for an honest and dispassionate post on a rather different topic – it came as an interesting and pleasant surprise!
    My therapist and I are both rather obsessively focused on my problems, issues, weaknesses, fears, etc. etc. ad infinitum. In a long-term therapeutic relationship, this can raise further problems if the client comes to believe they possess no positive inner resources to confront, manage, tolerate their various not-so-positive attributes. I recently noted to my therapist that I had become convinced that I had no positive aspects to work with on my own behalf. He recalled a couple of positives rather perfunctorily, but my sense is that the client really needs to feel they have the resources (ultimately, at some level) to confront their own weaknesses and deal with them. Should these resources be only casually recalled once in a blue moon, both the client (and, I suspect, the psychotherapist) are at risk of losing sight of them.

  19. “For clients who long for a corrective emotional experience — that is, to regress to an infantile state and be cared for by a loving therapist — growth and greater capacity can feel like deprivation if it means they’re better able to look after themselves alone.”

    I may be one of those clients. I sometimes suspect I am in it (therapy) for the “warm fuzzy feelings.” However, my hope (and to some extent my experience so far) has been that as I have those corrective emotional experiences, I’ve developed more independence naturally, I like to think as a consequence. Does that seem like a reasonable conclusion?

  20. I think we can err on either side on this one. I think in any sort of relationship, we unconsciously gravitate to what enables us to receive (and give) attention and be present. A patient can tend to focus on things there is a reward of attention to, even if there’s a negative label from the DSM. On the other hand, sometimes we use positive thinking to avoid and suppress – for a study of this (including “positive psychology”) I like the book “Bright Sided” by Barbara Ehrenreich.

    The therapists I respect the most make it clear that while they are there to make money, they will not hold back on commenting when they feel they’re not helping or helping less – integrity is a higher priority. I like that you’re honest about all the above.

  21. In the beginning of therapy with my current therapist I had trouble remembering the things that were going well in my current life. He suggested I write a list for us to look at to remember. The list I made included a few photos, names of my kids, spouse, some work I had done I was proud of. As we go along in therapy he or I remind ourselves of these and have added more as I become more comfortable with other aspects of my life. It helps me to have these successes also “living” in the room with us. And to celebrate them with him.

  22. I think I’m pretty luck to have found my therapist , I have resisted him ,berated him , cried with him , argued with him and then in the space of all this I have found the positives in my life. He has never had to point them out to me but has navigated me into a direction where by I had come to that space . This in itself is extremely rewarding. A safe place to dump toxic waste , sift through it , get rid of some it , reclaim some it ,watch some of it evolve into a positive is extremely satisfying. It’s a fine balancing act met with blunders but we’re positively human 🙂

  23. “I think drama is tiresome, and there’s nothing more tedious than the acquaintance who’s always undergoing some crisis.”
    “I guess the point is to have a realistic view, neither idealized nor exclusively focused on what’s wrong.”

    Now you’re talking, Joseph.

    Good wishes to you and yours this festive season.

  24. Evan recommended your blog, especially for your insight around primary shame . . . I like what you wrote in this post, as well!

    I especially like the idea that formal therapy can possibly end when the client is able to continue the healing journey in the absence of the therapist . . . I can relate to that significantly!

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

  25. I’m no Pollyanna either. The proof is in the words of my 18 yr old daughter: “Does every story you tell have to turn into a psychological thriller?” I laughed heartily and said “Yes, I guess it does!”

  26. Hi Joseph,
    I believe that when people are happy, contented, at peace (whatever is good enough really), clients will terminate therapy. I am not sure as therapists that we ever end the process unless the client is confirmed to end the therapy him/herself. If a client stays on for reasons of dependancy, minding the therapist etc – then I suggest there is more work to be done…..

    About emphasising the positives – its a given in the work or we couldn’t keep doing it – as practitiioners or as clients. Many clients will ask of therapists ‘how do you bear listening to sad and bad stories all day long?’ – well usually thats the clients way of asking ‘how do you bear MY sad/bad stories?’ – an indication of how painful the clients feelings can be and living with them ‘all day long’. And of course wondering if the therapist can bear the clients pain.

    As well as discussing this, sometimes I might tell a client ‘if you were paying me every week just to tell me all the good things in your life, I would wonder what was wrong’….. People dont pay therapists, formerly complete strangers, to hear how great their lives are. I think you are absolutely spot on in your blogging. It is positive, hopeful, meaningful and in that sense upbeat for anyone experiencing the pain of the psychotherapy journey at present. That’s what therapy is trying to heal. We gotta keep it real. That’s the therapy deal.

    1. I like your interpretation of the client’s question, about how we bear all the pain. Your response is one I’ve made myself.

      It’s hard for many people to understand the meaning and gratification we therapists experience when we’re able to bear with and understand another person’s pain. I don’t find it a “downer” … not at all. It makes me feel connected to others and provides a crucial sense of meaning in my life.

  27. I’ve been to multiple therapists and none of them seem willing to discuss what’s wrong. Other than maybe I need to get more sleep. Eat more and exercise more. But I’m left with the feeling that the hard stuff, the real digging in, is left undone. I want to know why I keep having relational problems. What part do I play in the demise of one marriage and now possibly a second? I don’t have thin skin. Why won’t someone be honest with me? I want to grow and change and be the best I possibly can.

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