Written by Samantha Wall, LCSW and Francine Baffa, LICSW, BCBA-D
Edited by Joe DeNoon
For the month of May, the two of us, Francine and Sam, will be focusing on connection! We will be starting with our own connection with our clients and with each other! This blog will look different from others, as we connect through our experiences with connection as therapists!
“Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”- Brené Brown
Creating an engaged therapeutic relationship is where we start. I became a therapist because I believe in the power of relationships. Moved by my own experiences, I wanted to guide others to push past perceived limitations, obstacles, and fear to live a full and meaningful life. We all can grow and change and heal as we move forward — it is our connections that act as guides, at times visible and others in the shadows — we can only truly know ourselves as we learn who we are in our environment and in our connections to others.
Therapy is a joint process. The partnership provides a strong foundation that equips one with self-agency to develop new patterns and create a life closer to their authentic self. We recalibrate with each interaction, both within and outside ourselves.
I love that Francine started with a Brené Brown quote because when I think of connection, I think about Brené Brown’s presentation about empathy. Each time I watch that video, I take something new out of it. Recently, I have noticed in the video her statement about how little a response helps someone, it is the connection that is powerful. Like Francine, I believe in the power of relationships, and I feel so much in the connection I create with my clients. If a client struggles to connect, there can be barriers to treatment and progress toward the goal they are working towards.
If we are feeling disconnected, whether it is from our environment, workplace, family, or friends, it can be a very isolating feeling, but many times, this is one of the steps I encourage my clients to work on to heal or work towards their therapeutic goals. Something I notice about disconnection; it usually occurs when there is a feeling of discomfort or a lack of safety. This is why the therapeutic connection is so important. If my client feels a lack of safety, it is my job to create safety in our relationship or connection.
Disconnection can create a feeling of safety and protection, as well as feelings of loneliness and isolation. An important piece of connection in my work is to normalize the safety of disconnection. If we are not connected, we are less vulnerable.
Samantha, thank you for this insight as to the paradox of connection — I do agree that when we feel disconnected, we are less vulnerable, and this then leads to the inability to give and receive love. It has been said that being vulnerable is like letting down your drawbridge — those individuals that have experienced trauma do not feel safe doing this. In therapy, being vulnerable means exposing aspects of yourself that could be emotionally challenging to share with others…opening up about the details of your life with your therapist.
Vulnerability is putting your heart on the line and encouraging the most authentic version of yourself to come to the forefront — both of which are prerequisites for a loving union. When we are disconnected, we erect a wall between ourselves and others and a wall between our authentic selves and the ones we present.
How can we connect more with clients and truly create that safe space?
Open a dialogue journey!
Just as a good journalist asks open-ended questions, a therapist can also use the technique to assess more detail from the discussion.
Clear the path!
Do not assume your idea of anything matches theirs. It’s your job to assess the situation carefully and correctly.
Stay the course!
Clients need to know you accept them and respect their right to make their own decisions. Neither coddling nor being too insensitive will be productive. You must find the median line that intersects these two extremes. Be sensitive to where your client is and know when to give the extra little encouragement to reveal more or to think deeper. Sometimes, it’s that push that helps the client arrive at their goal.
Francine, trauma can really disconnect us from others! It is our job as a therapist to create a safe space and connection with our clients. I love the open dialogue, clearing the path, and staying the course with acceptance and respect. This can create a space where our clients are allowed to feel connected. When I think of trauma disconnecting others, I think about the trauma nurses go through every day and how it can create a disconnect with others around them. They experience trauma in a way that many others cannot understand. This can lead nurses to not only feel disconnected,n but it can make it seem overwhelming to connect. I know that connection is what helps me do my job. I can get overwhelmed by clients’ ups and downs, and I cannot imagine how hard it is to connect with nurses. When the connection is vulnerable, and someone does a job where the patients they work with are sick, it can be a form of protection to disconnect.
It can be important in these moments to connect with ourselves and our emotions. Some ways to learn to connect with our own emotions is to slowly connect with what feels manageable.
So true Samantha and I offer this acronym COMPASS to give key steps in the process:
Check-in with self
Openly name your feelings
Acknowledge the feelings
Savor this self-connection
Share with another