We all have good and bad days. Think of those days when you feel alert and focused, confident in your ability to help your clients, calm and ready for whatever comes in that day. Then there are the days you wonder how they let you do this work, days you have trouble concentrating or you find the clients annoying. What’s up and how can you increase the “good” days?
We have all a better guide in ourselves,
if we would attend to it,
than any other person can be.
First, do no harm.
One way to look at this is to ask who we are in each session. We all have qualities and characteristics that, at given moments, either come forward or recede. In the Internal Family Systems model, these aspects are called parts. Many of our parts serve us well and help us be most effective for our clients. For example, you have parts that care about the client, that hold science knowledge and experience about behavior change. Our parts that know about appropriate professional conduct and boundaries are essential in our work. When we bring these qualities, and hold them lightly, they support us to be most present and effective for our clients.
At times, our parts take over and get in the way of our work. It’s easy to miss this happening. For example:
- Our caring for the client can shift into pushing the person to change in ways we believe will be best for her. A part of us really wants the person to change, and it takes over. In Motivational Interviewing, this is called the Righting Reflex (Tips # 65 and 151).
- We can focus so intently on our scientific knowledge that we don’t notice that the client isn’t interested in it.
- Taking pride in our work and always wanting to do our best can get more extreme and become self-criticism that then makes it harder to focus on the client.
- Rigid focus on professionalism can keep us from being present and warm to our client.
- We may notice judgments of the client’s behavior or beliefs.
What part of you might get in the way? You may notice feeling intimidated by a client, bored, angry, or critical. Sometimes, parts that have nothing to do with the client interfere. Perhaps you don’t want to be at work that day, are worried about a family member, distracted by news or work politics, or worried about your finances.
Our parts come and go throughout the day. Ideally, they do this gently and in the service of what is needed in the moment. When we ask them to decrease their hold on us, they often will. The more we notice, acknowledge, and ask parts to separate, the more we have available our central Self, which is naturally compassionate, curious, and patient. This Self is present in all of us. You experience it most clearly on those days when you feel calm and “in the flow.”
Here is an example from my practice. When I am sitting with one of my clients, I sometimes find myself getting annoyed with him. When I ask the part, What’s up?, it tells me that it is noticing the client’s distracting us from the topic at hand. I thank it for noticing this, and I ask it to step aside and allow me to use this information in the service of the client. If instead I don’t notice this and just let this part lead, I will express the annoyance, which may puzzle or hurt the client.
If you would like to explore this concept of parts that obscure your best Self:
- Begin by noticing a part.
- Separate from it a bit. Say to yourself, “I’m noticing a part that…”
- What is its role? You might not know yet whether this part has something useful to contribute to your work or is crowding in for other reasons. Ask the part whether there is something it wants you to attend to or whether it has a fear for you.
- After acknowledging it, ask it to step to the side enough to allow you space to proceed. You may need to promise to attend to it later.
- As you develop relationships with your familiar parts, you will be able to quickly access them and ask them to let you lead more and more often.
For more on Internal Family Systems, www.selfleadership.org