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Therapeutic Failures, Ugh.

Therapeutic failures. Ugh. Rarely do we discuss them openly. Yet our failures can be one big playground on which we can discover and fortify leaps in skill.

I recently hit a therapeutic failure with a client. I don’t want to write about it. Sharing failure seems counterintuitive and oh, so wrong. Yet oh so right at the same time.

None of us like admitting a therapeutic failure, ESPECIALLY when we stand in a position of mentoring and teaching. Yet here I am. Simultaneously unpacking a therapeutic failure while standing in the full and complete knowledge of the value of my service and the training I offer.

Yet, I failed. It’s the truth, we fail others from time to time.

Turning away from that serves no one. We all aim to serve to the very highest of our ability. From my point of view, part of becoming even more adept in how we serve is to investigate the failures – find the miss. Mine that territory for the gold buried in the breach. Continuously learn.

What did I miss?

What could I have done differently?

Examination, discovering where things went awry is vital to serving at the level I choose to serve. It’s ALWAYS a good idea to engage in a good honest review of what happened when things don’t go as we expect.

This does not mean self-flagellation. Nor does it mean unpacking some assumed pathology of our client as the reason. People have their reasons. I can be at peace with that. My job at this point is to discover MY misses.

Nonetheless, if you are anything like me, you may journey through a territory of remorse or sorrow in the field of failure. I ran into some regret and even embarrassment as I considered sharing this with you.

Failures, defeated goals can evoke all kinds of content (Thoughts, Images, Emotions, Sensations). Failure is rich territory for untethering from limiting beliefs and identifications along with other variants of human experience associated with defeat.

Of course, having the means to shed this energy in minutes is not only a relief but clears the path for being able to look at the therapeutic failure through fresh eyes and a wide-open heart. I honestly cannot even remember what it’s like to unpack something like this without the accompanying understanding and methods to untangle from such cognitive and emotional briar patches. Thank goodness for AAIT.

What I discovered in my exploration was a frayed connection with my client. Investigating when it started to fray revealed several points where I could have chosen a different path. For one, I became too slack about the expectations of our collaboration and let slide little indicators that we weren’t on the same page, I didn’t use our relationship well. Our connection frayed as I tooled along ignoring the little signs warning that we were getting off course from the essential element of good work – a solid therapeutic relationship. Without that, we cannot collaborate.

Some frays can be prevented, some cannot. This one, likely couldn’t have been prevented, but who knows? What I know is that we can often find the very beginning of the end in looking at how clear and specific we are in the beginning – the client contract. Contract, in this context, doesn’t mean a written agreement, it is more conversational, built into the dialogue with clients.

Specifically –

  • WHAT are we going to address?
  • HOW are we going to address it?
  • WHAT expectations do we have of each other?
    • Of course, the most SIGNIFICANT of these expectations is the collaborative commitment to maintain a safe and solid therapeutic crucible. That means having a mutual willingness to address any tiny cracks.
    • With AAIT, there is an expectation of being on the SAME page about deliberate practices at home, aimed at helping our clients get relief from their problems and realize their goals.
  • HOW are we tending to the ongoing care of the relationship?

From my vantage point, I am reminded of what a deep honor it is to be trusted in the ways we are trusted regardless of our failings. This honor is built on the bridge of our connection and a commitment to providing the BEST care we can. Exploring these collaborative points as they relate to the therapeutic contract is some of what we investigate in the Fellowship Training Group.

Join the conversation in our Facebook Group, what are the best things you have learned from therapeutic failures?