child therapy

My way of working with people...

When people or families come to see me they are often feeling stuck; stuck in debilitating emotional states, stuck in relationships, stuck in their pattern of coping. In one way or another, they would like to move from their 'stuckness' to a place of choice where they can feel empowered and free. This is why one of the main principles from which I work is the Freedom of MOVEMENT.  In this post, I will explore the Freedom to Move principle and how people might experience this process of freeing the mind and the body to move to new health and growth in therapy. 

Sometimes people come to therapy expecting the therapist to provide the 'right' answers or approach to problem situations.  They want to be told what to do and offered "good" advice.   Sometimes they experience shame with having to ask for help because they expect themselves to know what is ‘right’  even though they may have never encountered such problems before.  They live by rules such as: "I should never make mistakes." or "I should always know the right thing to do."

The need for the one right way is a trap; it is a trap for the client and the therapist. The expectation that one should know what to do, is a common element that contributes to stuckness because it is a barrier to learning. My way, as Bruce Lee said it, is to have no way. This means that I have no preset ideas of what is right and I leave myself open and able to create the solution that I need at a moment in time depending on the situation. The process of therapy is the client and myself joined in this process of discovery. Not with one in front of the other or behind but both of us side by side.

Using no way as a way; having no limitation as limitation

-Bruce Lee


No one can be force fed right answers.  Even a baby has to do the work of swallowing and digesting what is given. In other words, every lesson must be earned by being experienced through the whole person and internalized through the body.  A technique or a strategy can not be long lasting if it has no roots inside the person and within relationships. This is why reading books is rarely enough to help people change.  Knowing cognitively is only one level of knowing. To learn experientially means to learn with one's senses, mind, heart, body; any and every resource a person has available.   (Ironically, there is a real limitation occurring right now through this writing as we are not able to see, touch or hear each other.)

I admit candidly and quickly with people that I have no right answers for them and there is no way I could ever be wise to their situation as they could be for themselves. My focus is on creating a safe context of mutual learning, connection, curiosity and exploration. From here, people are able to become aware of themselves and others in new ways, to gain motivation and willingness to change, to create new empowering choices and to decide what they will do and to practice these new ways in their everyday life. 

Unfortunately, a large majority of people are caught in the pressure to do the right thing. This pressure makes it difficult for people to listen, to be present and to use all the information available to them including their senses, their intuition and their wisdom.  All human beings in whatever role (parent, child, teacher, manager) who can acknowledge what they don’t know or their mistakes give themselves the gift and the opportunity to learn and grow from their experience.

Living is a learning process. The notion of an expert acts as a barrier to the learning process.  Relating to therapists as simply the holders of the correct answers does at least three things that take clients off their learning course:

  1. It makes them depend on the so called "expert", which means that they will need to be in therapy forever.

  2. It disconnects them from developing their own wisdom/intelligence and decision making ability for their own life.

  3. Both therapist and client stop looking at their present experience because a conclusion is made about what is happening for that particular client based on what happens to most clients with similar behaviour/symptoms/problems.

How does a therapist avoid the above three pitfalls?


Firstly the therapist must be in connection with himself and his learning process. He must free himself from conclusions about and for the client that the client has not participated in. This is one of the dangers of labels and diagnoses; they offer conclusions about a person that creates expectations for the client of themselves and the therapist of the client that may or may not be true.  I have seen many situations where diagnosis have been helpful and I have seen them be very harmful as well.  What is important is that clients engage in their own narratives and develop a deep understanding of themselves rooted in their experience not just a label and a diagnostic manual.

The therapist can model a way of being that he hopes his client will engage in themselves and that is a learning stance. In Zen Buddhism, this is similiar to the idea of Beginner’s mind. It is the willingness to learn about and from the client their experience which includes what they feel, their feelings about feelings, perceptions, expectations, deep yearnings, their sense of self and their current ways of behaving and coping.  It includes learning about their family of origin and some of the ways of coping, creating intimacy, resolving difference that they may have learned from their earlier life. The act of looking and being with a person with fresh eyes can be healing in and of itself. The therapist offers an accepting, non judgmental, caring, genuine, present centered, hopeful, and respectful space for the client.  This stance positions clients as the expert of their experience and empowers them by communicating constantly that they are capable of learning something new when their old patterns no longer help them.

Secondly, the therapist can be more helpful by providing the space, trust and support to move from status quo to something new. This means the therapist needs to work with where the client is starting, not with the therapist’s good ideas about what is right or correct or what the research says. Instead the therapist can give a message through their behaviour that says, “I trust that you have everything inside you that you need to cope healthfully with your life and I am here as a support to you in the process of discovering that healthy coping for you.”

By trusting the client, the client begins to trust themselves more, again or perhaps for the first time.  The therapist creates what I call a Positive Expectancy, which means he anticipates positively directed growth and change.  In time, the client begins to recognize what is right for themselves, including what is right about them (their worthiness) and their resources.

“I am pointing you towards you, not you towards me”

Thirdly, the therapist must work towards being fully present with the client, the situation, themselves and every resource that is available. The therapist models this resourcefulness by guiding the client to do a similar thing with themselves.  One simple way of doing this is helping clients reframing problems as resources and seeing their hidden strengths in situations.

For example, a mother brought her child in to see me because he had run away from his piano lesson because of a dispute with his teacher who had gotten really angry with him.  His 'running away' caused the mother to be very anxious and she wanted a way to resolve this behaviour so it never happened again. As they shared details about the story, it became clear that the boy was running towards his mother because he felt badly about what happened and did not know what else to do. I asked the mother how she felt that her son knew that when he was trouble he knew to run towards his mom!  She started to cry happily feeling a sense of relief and connection to her son with a new understanding of the situation. “Running away” as a problem was reframed as resource of knowing that the boy trusted his mom to help him. They were then able to work out better ways for him to get help but they first had to build on the resource positively and the strength that was already there. 

By becoming aware and connecting to the clients' intelligence, heart, wisdom, creativity, willpower as well as their weaknesses and limitations, both client and therapist can be fully human; making it more possible to engage in the process of change and growth and to live and experience life in a more fulsome way.

There is a big difference between knowing something cognitively and knowing something experientially.  I have learned that the more I let my clients teach me about their experience (not necessarily about their story) and the more I participate in that conversation with all of me, the more I am joined with them in their present experience.  In this way we are able to move much further because we have made contact and I am able to create a context of safety and nurturance.

The process of change and growth is a forever learning process for all of us no matter what side of the therapy room you are seated.  By remaining humble, curious and compassionate, I hope to help individuals and families move towards a deeper and more joyful connection to themselves and others.