There’s a town in Belgium called Geel. For centuries, its residents have opened their homes to people with severe mental health problems.
Over 200 people with mental health difficulties live there. They are in “foster relationships” with local families.
These boarders have good outcomes. Better than at the hospital they would otherwise be in. For instance, they take less medication.
They live pretty normal lives and are radically accepted for who they are.
One boarder has a habit of removing the buttons from his shirts. He finds the activity soothing.
Nobody tells him to stop. His foster family just sew the buttons back at the end of each day.
There have been many reporters who have visited Geel. One noticed the absence of the boarders’ actual families. Why not just board them there?
Ah, we tried that, came the response. But it doesn’t work.
When people are with their families, the results aren’t as good. Families get invested in an outcome in the way that these strangers don’t.
Family members try to change them. Often with good intent, but it gets in the way. They have hopes and dreams for the person.
A tug of war develops between how the person is, and how their loved ones hope they should be. Well being drops.
My clients are very different from those in Geel. Yet I often remind myself of this wisdom when I’m in the role of therapist.
I practice in a way that puts the client’s expertise about their life at the forefront. It’s a philosophical choice I have consciously made.
Despite this, at times I notice a desire to “drive” a client in a particular direction.
I sometimes begin to “get ideas” about what would be best for them.
This is when I remember Geel and the tug of war.
Many therapists know of this tug of war. In the text books, it is often called “resistance”.
Yet, strangely, they attribute this resistance to the client rather than the therapist.
My mantra is that there is no such thing as a resistant client.
When this tug of war takes place, it is the therapist resisting the client. Not the other way around.
The answer is not for the therapist to win the tug of war, but to drop the rope.
Be with the person again. They are the expert.
Their ideas about what is best for them are better than mine. My role is to ask the kind of interested questions that bring that expertise to the fore.