Kindness – Does It Have A Place in Therapy?

help with depression brightonWhen we are feeling vulnerable, a bit wobbly and everything seems to be going wrong at once a good dose of kindness can go a long way to help calm us down. Once we’re feeling less anxious, it becomes much easier to think straight and actually tackle what it is that is bothering us. As a therapist, I think it is very important to remember to be kind. But kindness is a funny old concept and people seem to react to it in many different ways.

I recently had a bit of a ding-dong with an eminent psychoanalyst who had delivered a talk in which he suggested that counsellors simply offer “advice” (I don’t) and  “false assurances”. Ouch! My hackles were well and truly raised. For me, the offer of kindness is very different to that of false assurances that everything will be all right. How can I possibly know that everything will be all right – Bob Marley-style? I can, though, listen carefully, take what people tell me seriously, stay alongside them when things get tough, and – when they are ready – think with them about different possibilities for living their lives. Some people like to be challenged more than others and I do my best with each person to gauge how much, when and in what way.
For me, kindness does not mean being weak, always agreeing with someone else or always giving in to their demands. Indeed, sometimes the kindest thing might be to not do something for someone. At the same time, although I might not be able to give someone what they want, I can still try to understand their point of view, be curious about where that view has come from and avoid saying something that might be experienced as shaming for them. This can be especially so in therapy when exploring raw spots – parts of ourselves that we don’t like very much or experiences which have caused us pain in the past.
I have strong memories of times in my own life when other people have shown me kindness: the couple sitting next to me on the plane who (bravely) asked if my lively toddler would like to see out the window; the man who stopped to help when my car tyre had a puncture and I couldn’t get the wheel nuts off; a hug from a friend on a bad day. Small acts and gestures made a big difference. I’m proud of the times I’ve shown kindness to others and I’ve also winced about the occasions when I’ve hung back or carelessly said things that have caused unnecessary hurt.
For me, kindness is about being honest and caring towards others. It is about trying to understand rather than judging at face value. Sometimes it is very hard to remember to be kind when faced with someone’s anger, disdain or contempt and our own system of self-defence kicks in. Occasionally we’ll get it wrong. Hopefully we’ll have the chance to put things right or, if not, to learn from our mistakes for another time.
Copyright: Caroline Clarke, Brighton counsellor
Image courtesy of artur84 /

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