Openness from Others

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Openness from Others

A number of years ago, I was supervising a team of therapists, and at the end of the workday, I received a call from one of them wanting to consult about a teenager she was treating in a weeklong intensive program. The therapist said she didn’t think the child was appropriate for the week of treatment and thought she would need more time to build rapport. She told me for their three-hour session that day the girl had insisted she didn’t believe in emotions. She said that she thought they were an artificial idea human beings had invented. The teen very much needed intensive trauma work. Sadly, she had been in counseling for over a decade at that point, all with little benefit.

I asked the therapist if she would mind if I attended their session the next day. She readily agreed. When the client came into the room and saw me with her therapist her eyes widened. She thought she was in trouble. I simply said I was her therapist’s supervisor, and I had heard they had a difficult session the day before and wanted to see if I could help. I told her I had gone through the same treatment years prior, expecting no relief, and instead was greatly helped. I went on to add that I had looked at her chart and knew she’d been in therapy since she was a toddler, which meant we, as mental health professionals, had failed her or she wouldn’t still be struggling so. I added that I couldn’t imagine she would want to tell her story to one more person. She sat still and silent. Finally, she asked, “Are you a unicorn?” I had no idea what she meant. She said, “You came skipping in here throwing trauma sprinkles and rainbows and suddenly I want to do this.” I realized she was connecting to me and so I knew I needed to spend a few more minutes casually chatting with her and her therapist to get them comfortable with each other before I left the room so they could get to work.

What I learned from that experience is that openness is a byproduct. It can’t be a goal. The young therapist was so interested in the client cooperating with treatment that she was, metaphorically, attempting to bash the young lady’s door down, forcing her to accept it. She was asking her to be open, but all the while, she was sending the message that she would have value if only she would participate in the therapy. On the other hand, I hadn’t used a technique of some sort on her. I was simply relating to her the way I would have wanted to be treated. If I wanted her to be honest, it only made sense that I be honest, too. In expressing to her that I understood her, acknowledged her value regardless of if she chose to participate in the program, and respected her boundaries, she readily opened her heart and ended up doing fantastic work through the rest of the week.

It would be a drastically different story if I had gone into the treatment room and said the same things but with the goal of getting her to cooperate, as opposed to the goal of connecting. She, most likely, would have been able to sense a lack of consistency or sincerity and would have walled off her heart, and all for good reason. I wouldn’t have been trustworthy if I had made treatment a goal. She had to be the goal. I had to surrender potential failure in front of one of my team, but it didn’t matter. I couldn’t matter at that point – not to her.  I had to know I mattered to the Lord and to myself. It was my job to communicate that she mattered. I didn’t really fully understand how important what I was doing was and didn’t know why she so quickly decided to engage in treatment until I prayed about it after the session. Through that meeting, the Lord taught me openness is a byproduct rather than an end in and of itself. That lesson changed how I aspire to relate.

Whether or not others choose to open at a given time or in a particular circumstance, reverencing them is an honor because it is an opportunity to imitate how the Lord relates to us. When others do open up to us, it is profound and humbling and deserves to be met with reverence and respect.

Action Step

Take advantage of time in a store, restaurant, or gathering and note what fosters openness among people and what tends to shut people down. See if you notice how boundaries, acceptance (value) and being known come into play.

May the Lord give you peace!


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