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Beyond the Magic Wand

By: Kari Mika-Lude

A good therapist is always working himself or herself out of a job.  In other words, the most basic goal of therapy is to no longer need therapy.  However, the therapist can only do so much.  The therapist’s role is not to solve problems or make things better.  Unfortunately, therapists are not magicians or wizards, and there is no magic wand.

Consider physical therapy for a moment.  In physical therapy, there is a therapist.  The role of the physical therapist is to facilitate the healing process through the use of exercises, education, and so on.  Ultimately, the work itself falls on the patient; if the patient does not do her part, then healing will not take place.  Physical therapy can be a long and painful process, but that pain is accepted as a means to an end.  The therapist’s job is similar to that of a coach, offering guidance, support, and encouragement throughout the process, but if the therapist does not push the patient to stand on her own, the patient is left leaning on the therapist.

Similarly, when a person presents to counseling, there is a therapist.  Like the physical therapist, the role of the therapist is to facilitate the healing process through the use of exercises, education, and so on.  Again, the work itself falls on the client; if the client does not do his part, the healing will not take place.  Counseling can be a long and painful process, but unlike physical pain, emotional pain is often avoided.  However, the therapist’s job is the same, offering guidance, support, and encouragement throughout the process.  The therapist’s responsibility is to push the client to think for himself, make his own choices, and work through his healing.  If the therapist does all the problem-solving, the client then becomes dependent on the therapist for answers and advice.

As a person who has worked in both physical therapy and now mental health, I can tell you that it is difficult to watch someone struggle, whether it be physically or emotionally.  Naturally, there exists a desire to alleviate pain within every healthcare professional.  When clients ask me what they should do, of course I wish there were some magic words to make their pain cease.  But the truth is, it’s not my place to tell people what to do, and even if it were, what I would do in a particular situation may be very different from what someone else would do.  What may be helpful for me may not be helpful for someone else.  What I see as a solution may be more of a problem for someone else. 

The bottom line is that therapy takes time and effort, and I promise you that the therapist does not have a magic wand.  The clients who get the most out of therapy are those who come in ready to participate in self-exploration, put in the work, and move toward lasting change.  Change is not easy, and it certainly can be painful.  The therapist is there to walk with you but can only do so much.  The rest belongs to you.


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