In 1957, Jorge Luis Borges, with the car of Margarita Guerrero, published the first version of Manual de zoología fantástica (Manual of Fantastic Zoology), giving the world a whole universe of mythological and legendary creatures.
Almost a century later, towards evening, I am in my studio, one of the places I use to meet people who have chosen to ask for my support to improve their lives, their existence and their relationship with their emotions (some of them so strange, so strong, so difficult to feel), relationships, connections. Sometimes even just to ask for support with respect to a deep loneliness, the kind that is difficult to tolerate.
I think of Borges’ imaginary creatures and the real ones who come to me and my colleagues, the fabulous members of the EFT ITALIA community, to be welcomed, understood, comforted, and helped. And I look at all of them, and all of us, with the same wonder with which, so many years ago, I found myself discovering Borges’ fantastic creatures, so today I look at our own creatures and cannot help but find them just as fantastic. I am talking about our clients, that is to say the people that many therapeutic approaches call ‘patients’, and that many times are also us, yes we the therapists, who as human beings like all the others often travel the same roads, the same pains, the same loneliness.
At this point, an aside is in order.
Is the person who comes to a therapist a patient or a client?
The EFT approach teaches us to call these people “clients” and not “patients”, because the word patient is associated with the relationship with the doctor, and therefore with the sense of inferiority, or at least of inequality, of the former before the latter in a sort of hierarchical rather than human relationship.
The lab coat, the distance, the years of study, and the vocabulary are all factors that distance two people who instead need to be very close.
Not only: in the collective imagination, the patient is sick, and the illnesses that our world accepts are still and almost only those that are visible, that is, that touch the body. Not the mind, not the emotions, not loneliness….
All other invisible discomforts (although they are often very visible, as well as being just as disabling as an arrhythmia or an injured organ!) remain all too often a source of social disapproval and therefore embarrassment. Worse still, all too often, when there is a need for support and help, it is considered madness.
We can get stomach aches.
We can digest with difficulty.
We can lose diopters and decibels.
We are allowed to.
What seems not to be allowed is what concerns our emotions, especially when we have no reason to be unhappy….
To be called patient therefore becomes, in such cases, doubly difficult.
In a single verb: push away.
On the other hand, it must also be said that, at least in Italy, the term ‘customer’ does not always have only positive connotations. For the United States of America, the discourse changes: in the Land of Opportunity, the salesman is held in much higher esteem than he is here.
So here’s a good recommendation for all of us: our mission revolves around connections. That is, closeness, that closeness made up of acceptance, acceptance, and openness.
Here it is.
Every time we use the word ‘customer’, make sure we make ourselves understood and create welcome, not judgment, acceptance and support from – to human being.
Back to the fantastic creatures now.
While the sun has already set and it is starting to get cold, I think of the human phenomenologies with which I have come into contact, nay, connection, over these years of EFT therapy. I call them to mind and feel them.
In front of me, I see and hear the people who have presented themselves with a diagnosis of their relationship problems almost before they tell me their name.
“We already know what’s wrong: we read about it on the internet!”
And often with a “guilty”:
“She’s a control freak!”
“He’s a pathological narcissist!”
Silent, contracted and closed couples.
Angry, howling couples, and composed couples.
Those on the run from other therapies or therapists, often disappointed, sometimes angry.
“Look, don’t get me started on this… with all the money I’ve spent…”
“The only thing he could tell us was that we had to break up…. that even though we love each other it was a toxic relationship.”
The ones who told me not to believe in psychotherapy.
“Don’t be offended, but I don’t believe in it…”
Or not to trust.
“Nothing personal, but it’s not that I trust much… “
The ones who claimed to have already tried them all.
The hopeless ones.
“We’re here but it’s useless anyway”…
The furious ones, who seem to seek in therapy only an outlet, a kind of space in which to raise the tone.
The ones who felt obliged to start couples therapy but ‘knew’ it would not work.
“We have to…”
“Our friends advised us…”
Those who because of so many prejudices arrive when it is almost too late…
“This really is the last resort for us…”
The optimists, the pessimists, the catastrophists.
The indecisive, the insecure, the hesitant and the mistrustful.
I see and hear people who – at first – couldn’t be open, couldn’t tell it like it was, and for what it was, because they were trapped in distrust, loneliness, or hopelessness that something could still change.
Every time, in front of every single expression of human emotions and their manifestations, I can only open up.
I listen, I observe, I welcome.
I do not judge.
I do not question.
I take note and open my arms, my heart, and all my sense organs, visible and otherwise, to connect with them.
To understand what they feel, how they feel, what they (and they) tell me they feel.
And only then, do I wonder why someone sat in front of me with a diagnosis found online, or why they immediately tell me not to believe in therapy….
In other words, I do what Sue Johnson, the author, clinical psychologist, researcher, lecturer and international speaker who has managed to radically transform psychotherapy by bringing emotions to the center of couples therapy, teaches us.
In practice, we ourselves must rely on the wisdom of emotions, just as we learned to do in the workshop ‘The Wisdom of Emotions’.
To help our clients, we have to give shape to love.
And to ‘shape love we must be open and responsive’.
To trust our emotions, to trust our clients, their realities and experiences, and to deeply believe that by creating a space of safety and welcoming listening, people will always surprise us and grow by getting, together with us, exactly where they want to get, and to be, as Sue Johsnon says:
The best possible edition of Self.
And you dear colleagues, how do you do it?