What Works in Counseling, Psychotherapy, and Psychoanalysis: Humble Collaboration

What is apt to be impactful with someone
is someone else being themselves with you,
which then encourages you to be yourself with them
– Earl C. Brown

I have been seeing patients for over 40 years using an approach oriented by humanistic psychology, interpersonal relations research, mother-infant observational studies, developmental psychology across the life span, personal construct psychology, and relationally oriented theories. As a licensed psychologist, I have taught undergraduates, directed a graduate program in Clinical Psychology, supervised advanced trainees in my field as well as in psychiatry, as well as have conducted research on important issues in psychotherapy (assessing interpersonal styles and how we impact each other in relationships, suggestibility, malleability of memory), and written and spoken in public about the importance of a scientifically informed approach to practice. These experiences have led me to an evolving credo, a set of beliefs and principles formed from my lived professional experience, that are the foundation of my way of being a clinician. (Unless otherwise noted, I use the terms psychotherapist/psychoanalyst, and therapist/analyst interchangeably here).

Furthermore, I want to be clear that my guiding principles emerge from an identity as a psychologist first and foremost: someone interested in behavior and mental processes; someone who informs his work from empirical, quantitative and qualitative research; someone who knows from experience that the discipline of scientific thinking and core knowledge in basic psychology (e.g., how our biology influences our feelings, behaviors, and thinking; how we learn and develop across our lives; how we remember; how we act in groups and respond to efforts to influence our actions, beliefs, and values) is critical and practical for effective and ethical psychoanalytic intervention.

Further, my life experience as a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, psychoanalyst, professor, expert witness in Federal Court, small-business consultant, husband, father, and human being have convinced me that more than almost anything else, people are hungry to have the experience of being deeply known, understood, and grokked, a term coined by Robert A. Heinlein in the classic novel Stranger in a Strange Land. That is my mission every day: to listen, hear, inquire, understand . . . and grok.

In this regard, interpersonal communication theorists, behavior and cognitive-behavior therapists, humanistic, personal construct, and interpersonal psychologists, psychoanalytically informed feminists, Self Psychologists, and relational psychoanalysts have taught me again and again about the importance of a collaborative treatment alliance with my patients. Collectively, they remind me of the rewards that accrue when I lean forward with humble relatedness and the here-and-now presence that facilitates my tracking of affect. An important part of this way of being is to take a credulous attitude toward my patients; accept the notion that for the most part, patients say what they mean and mean what they say! My stance is not to prove them wrong, and impart some perspective as if it is their truth. This way of being with patients assumes a collaborative though asymmetrical relationship, one in which both patient and practitioner create together an environment in which patients feel nurtured, encouraged, and can find their growing edge.