Home > Uncategorized > Myth of the Good Client

Myth of the Good Client

Interesting read (as always from Martha) on what makes a “good” client.

what a shrink thinks

So you want to be the best, most gratifying client ever? You want to insure that your therapist adores you, always looks forward to your sessions, gets as much out of working with you as you get from them? Thinks of you as polite, funny, intelligent, astute, self-reflective?

All that probably makes you totally anxious, ties you in knots, and blocks your ability to teach your therapist what it is you actually need from them. And what you don’t.

But it won’t make you a good or a bad client.

There are in fact clients that I’ve thought of as “bad clients” – and I’m certain that if you are concerned at all about “being good” that you are probably not one of them.

“Bad” therapy clients are those have presented in therapy with completely ulterior manipulative non-therapeutic motives (See Deliver Us: Thoughts on Evil in Psychotherapy http://wp.me/p1AOzF-74) who want…

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  1. December 23, 2012 at 8:56 am

    Thanks a lot! 🙂


    • December 23, 2012 at 9:20 am

      More than welcome Martha, you’re writing is always worth passing on!


  2. chewingtaffy
    December 23, 2012 at 10:31 am

    I just read this today on Martha’s blog, and it resonated deeply with me. Yes…there is this primal need for my therapist to “like me.” To be his favorite client ever. And yet to make this a goal of therapy derails the whole thing.


    • December 23, 2012 at 3:11 pm

      Sigh, gosh Taffy I have NO idea what you’re talking about. 🙂 I wish knowing this would stop me from crying (ha! Freudian slip) trying.


  3. December 23, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    When I think of this, for me it is connected to my desire to be loved by my therapist so I can get the total love I never got from my parents. I hope that I will “perform” well enough and be “perfect” enough for him so he will love me. I actually had a dream where I was in therapy (with a different T, not my real T) who said to me “You’d better entertain me.”

    As humiliating as this feels (even though this is defense/shame), I realize that it is at the core of my pain and healing to go in there every week and express this need explicitly–easier said than done. My therapist will inevitably, time and again, tell me that I don’t need to DO anything to be cared for.

    This goes back to your post AG (Filling the Void) about learning that we matter–that we’ve always mattered. That, unlike the example set by parents who required I fulfill their needs first, I don’t need to perform to receive love or know I am “good enough”.

    It is nice to hear this corroboration from Martha, of course, and it again makes me realize how so many things I, as a client, may think about the therapist/client relationship which actually reside in transference and not in a real need on the part of my therapist.


    • December 26, 2012 at 8:33 pm

      I absolutely agree with what you said, and I also agree that it’s very difficult to stop trying even when we know this. i returned again and again to the realization that I was trying to earn something I had already been given. But that desire to be special is because we should have been when we were children. Losing that is a grief, but we do not need to be ashamed for wanting it. Its a normal, healthy human desire, but not one that can be taken in as an adult. But its understandable that we need time to work through it. ~ AG


      • December 26, 2012 at 11:13 pm

        Hi AG,

        Hope you had a nice holiday. Thanks for your reply. When you said: “Its a normal, healthy human desire, but not one that can be taken in as an adult…”, I was a little confused. Can you clarify? Do you mean the desire to feel special (which we should have gotten as a child) is one we can’t take in as an adult? What do we take in then?



  4. GreenEyes
    December 26, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    DBS don’t want to speak for AG but perhaps she means that there are some experiences we can only take in as children and while as adults we can feel special in relationships, the nature and quality of that specialness is different.


    • December 27, 2012 at 11:48 am

      Hi DBS,
      Thanks, we had a lovely, peaceful Christmas, I hope your holidays were good also. Greeneyes was right (chime in anytime, I love discussions and appreciate the help!) about what I meant. Sorry, sometimes when I am talking about a train of thought that is well worn, I only include the engine and caboose and forget it won’t be obvious how I got to the back of the train. 🙂 This has very much been on my mind lately. We deserve to be the center of attention and be treated as precious and special, that our caregiver is focused on us, that we often come first and are the most important thing to them. Part of maturing is learning that we cannot always come first and that other people also have needs but this should happen AFTER we’ve experienced being treated as very special. Even a child with “good enough” parenting and secure attachment eventually has to handle moving out into the larger world and realizing that they are not valued by everyone else the way their family values them (I once asked BN if I had worked really hard so I could face normal problems :D). We did not have that, so there is an unfulfilled need. But as a child we can take in and integrate that attention in a way we cannot as an adult, combined with the fact that the level of attention to our needs we desire is not appropriate to an adult (someone totally focused and identifying our needs for us). So it is important that our therapists do NOT treat us as more special than their other clients and hold out the promise of meeting that unfulfilled need, as it is not possible. So they treat us with deep care in a way which teaches us we matter, but they cannot replace that experience we should have had. Their love works to help us heal that loss.

      And as Martha talked about, attempting to be their favorite client impedes the work. BN once told me that our focus on the relationship and attachment between us was necessary to the healing work we were doing, but was not how it should be. Our attachment bonds should be the background, the taken for security in which we are able to learn and grow. In other words, a healthy child with an attuned caregiver is NOT wondering if their parent loves them or will be there or will change towards them, they take it for granted and so are free to express all of themselves and be helped with learning to manage their feelings, identifying their needs and reaching out to get them met. This is where therapy comes closest to reproducing a parental relationship. You are valued and accepted for exactly who you are when you walk through the door, so you are free to explore and figure out who you are knowing you are safe while doing so. If the therapist needs to be pleased by you, then their needs will muddy the therapy. So they need nothing from us, even for us to be brilliant, or entertaining or engaging, so that we can have clarity in which to understand our own needs. But our experience makes it hard to trust that level of acceptance; learning it is true is an important part of our healing work. Hope that helps (sorry to be so long winded! Did I mention I have been thinking about this lately? :)) ~AG


  5. dpblusee
    December 27, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Hi AG,

    Wow! It’s as if you wrote a whole new blog post! Thanks for your thorough and detailed reply. I appreciate you taking the time to respond.

    So, I totally agree and can perceive everything you are saying, however, for me, I think it doesn’t impede the work right now, because I think it IS the work for me right now. The work for me right now is to have all of those feelings come up so I can process them. If I were to intellectualize them away and say: “Well, that is a childhood need that can’t be fulfilled as an adult, so I should try to suppress it.” then I wouldn’t be inclined to bring it up with my T. This wouldn’t allow me to deal with what happens when the need comes to light: to realize this need cannot be fulfilled, that I must receive love and care in a different way, which then allows me to grieve what I didn’t get as a child.

    It is my understanding, that to get to the more mature phase of my emotional growth that you describe so perfectly above: (“Our attachment bonds should be the background, the taken for security in which we are able to learn and grow. In other words, a healthy child with an attuned caregiver is NOT wondering if their parent loves them or will be there or will change towards them, they take it for granted and so are free to express all of themselves and be helped with learning to manage their feelings, identifying their needs and reaching out to get them met. This is where therapy comes closest to reproducing a parental relationship. You are valued and accepted for exactly who you are when you walk through the door, so you are free to explore and figure out who you are knowing you are safe while doing so.”) I must process the throes of grief, anger and despair that arise when I realize that my parents didn’t meet these basic needs. It is my understanding, that when I have processed enough, all the traumatic feelings I have, that I will not seek as intensely to have another person make me feel special.

    So, I guess, for me, and maybe it is how I am perceiving it now, because of where I am at in my therapy process, or maybe we are all saying the same things in different ways(!), I think attaching and trying to feel “special” with my T is essential to uncover what I never got.

    BTW, my T is extremely ethical, holds the boundaries and we’ve talked about all of this. I do understand that it is not for me to meet his needs in the relationship whatsoever. I have expressed transference feelings for him and suffer from severe attachment issues from a very traumatic childhood. I can see how it would impede the work if the client really believed the therapist’s role was to replace the parent and wasn’t able to work beyond that to the feelings underneath.

    For me, I see both. The “adult me” sees the role my therapist provides but the “child me” desperately wants her needs for love to come out. I have suppressed those needs for so long and it has been so hard to express them, but I know now, they have to come out. And they do, in a safe way, with a safe T who can help me to see who I really am and what I never got.

    So, back to my other question, I guess I was wondering, what does it feel like to take in love as an adult in an adult way? I assume it would not be a validating need — that we are always looking to be considered special, because hopefully we feel that way about ourselves already — but a more mature feeling that we are seen/loved just for who we are? Since I have never had that, and I do mean never, which makes me very sad, I was trying to get a sense of what that might feel like for others. Any thoughts? 🙂

    Thanks for starting such great topics and discussions!


    • December 31, 2012 at 5:47 pm

      Sorry it has tkaen so long to respond, both girls are home for the holidays so we’ve been spending a lot of family time. I totally agree with what you said. These needs and desires were perfectly healthy and there is nothing wrong, and a lot right, with expressing them in therapy. I think the heart of the work is in learning to be intimate as an adult so thar you can get your needs met now, but grieve the ones you can’t, both so you can heal and so you’ll stop using your energy to pursue an impossible goal. So I think you’re doing exactly what you should be doing and you’re safe doing so because you have an ethical therapist who understands where the boundaries should be and his own limitations on what he can and cannot provide you. But I think understanding these dynamics can help us hang on to the fact that our therapists are not behaving in a cruel manner, but in a loving one by having boundaries.

      You are also clear that you will not get everything you ask for, nor should you, which is so important. Where this becomes problematic is in the client who insists that none of these losses need to be losses, that if the therapist only loosened up enough, or tried harder, then we would get now everything we missed then. So instead of being focused on acknowledging our loss, allowing ourselves to have the feelings and grieve so we heal, the goal becomes pushing the therapist to provide whatever we believe we need or want. I know a woman who went so far as to show up at a session wih her husband and another therapist to pressure her therapist into prvoviding something he had refused to. I think, and I must emphasize its my opinion, that this is going to impede rather than aid healing.

      So I wasn’t trying to say we should tell ourselves not to feel this way or not to express it; it’s actually very important to do both. It is actually asking for what we want that allows us to sort needs that can be met from our losses. That’s why it can be such a painful process, but we need to understand that at times the answer needs to be no (which you already understand).

      As far as taking in love as an adult? I very much agree with what Liz said. An adult needs to understand that sometimes their needs are getting met and at other times that they are meeting anoher’s needs. What is missing isn’t so much our ability to recognize or take in the love. It’s completing the crucial developmental phase of having our worth communicated to us by a loving other (should have been our parents, but this is something our therapist CAN provide) so that we understand we are worthy of love and having our needs met. I was very loved, but it wasn’t until I knew my own worth that I was able to recognize it. I think this is a good topic for a future post. 🙂 ~ AG


  6. GreenEyes
    December 27, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    DBS I have had a few fleeting moments of what I am guessing is adult love. Internally I felt peaceful, secure and content and I was so aware of my love for my son and husband and their’s for me. I sense they both loved me deeply for who I am and that was incredibly joyful to bask in.

    But it was fleeting. Similar to you I am processing extensive childhood trauma and loss in my therapy. I’m currently in the middle of a 3.5 week break and am intermittently plagued by rage, abandonment and feelings of inner nothingness that threaten to blow me apart. It is so hard knowing I’m not Special or loved by to my T the way I want to be.


    • December 31, 2012 at 5:55 pm

      Greeneyes, I really like your description of what love can feel like. What is also important fo trauma victims to remember is that our feelings of being loved are like all emotions and will come and go. We may NOT feel loved at times but that doesn’t mean we are not loved. Our children don’t feel very loved when we say no to them, yet that is sometimes when we are at our most loving.

      I am sorry for the long break, that can be so difficult and I went through a long period where BNs absence would evoke rage, abandonment and the terror of not mattering also. We did a lot of good work surrounding those feelings that we discussed when he returned. I do want to reassure that as you express and process those feelings and become more secure in your attachment, it gets a lot easier. I hope you’re holding up well and it will be over soon ~ AG


  7. dpblusee
    December 28, 2012 at 1:02 am

    Hi GreenEyes,

    Thanks for responding. A 3.5 week break sounds incredibly hard!! I am on a 1.5 week break and that is hard enough. I am able to call my T if needed. I did reach out once, right before Christmas, because I was very badly off, dealing with anger in advance of seeing my family. Can you contact your T during the break?

    Hang in there. You are not alone.


  8. GreenEyes
    December 28, 2012 at 4:08 am

    DBS I can email and phone T but find both incredibly unsatisfying and sometimes it seems to make things worse. My T also charges for phone contact. So I am just trying to grin and bear it for the moment. I’m glad your T was helpful when you contacted him. Christmas can bring out the best and worse of family life. This was my first without anyone from my immediate childhood family unit and it was awful. Hope you manage ok through the next few days until T life resumes!


  9. liz
    December 28, 2012 at 8:50 am

    DBS, I don’t think such a thing as “adult love” even exists. Every relationship involving love (of any kind) will always trigger feelings that are linked to our childhood, and this happens to people who didn’t suffer from any childhood trauma, too. I think there is an adult way of approaching love, though. As an adult, you can recognise those feelings – attachment, jealousy, fear of being abandoned, fear of letting the other person see you as you really are, you name it -, learn to know where they come from and why, and just let them go, so they don’t damage your relationships.
    “Adult love” means finding a balance between giving and receiving, healing and being healed, taking care and being taken care of. There’s a lot of accepting your own limits and the other person’s limits, too, I guess.
    Luckily, it’s kind of impossible to give a right definition of what love is 🙂

    I understand really well what it means to have feelings of attachment for your therapist (I’ve been there myself), but as you go along the healing process you’ll eventually learn to put the relationship with your therapist inside its “frame” (sorry, I couldn’t think of a better way to say it), take the best from it (that’s easier if yours is not one of those therapists who are badly obsessed by boundaries :-)) and realize, thanks to that, how much more you can get from other relationships in your life.

    I hope this makes sense!


    • December 31, 2012 at 6:00 pm

      Hi Liz,
      Sorry to take so long to respond but I wanted to say welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting. I agree with everything you said as it closely tracks my experience in therapy. Thanks for taking the time to share your insights. ~ AG


  10. December 31, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    Ugh! I had to come back and re-read this post as I can really feel these things rising up in me. I feel I have been asking too much of late so therefore I have to push really hard and try to do ‘extra’ work at home so that my T knows I am worth looking after and continuing our relationship. This stuff of being totally unworthy of basic needs runs so very deep. :/


    • January 1, 2013 at 10:31 am

      It does run very deep and its a long painful slog to learn otherwise. But the good news is that it can be healed. We are not set in stone, but are capable of change and completing our development. I think there will always be a knee jerk response, especially in times of great stress, that we are “too much” but you will learn otherwise so that when those thoughts rise up, they can be quickly put away. If I feel that way with BN now, I know despite my feelings its not true. If his head was going to explode, it would have happened years ago. 🙂 But I also am better at asking if its bothering me again. I have yet to hit the magic number where he tells me “enough.” And trust me, I’ve been trying. 🙂 ~ AG


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