When theory gets in the way


sky day 341

sky day 341 (Photo credit: maureen_sill)

I’m a person-centred (trainee) therapist. To me, that means that I don’t rely on elaborate theories about the human condition; I rely ON the human condition. For me, it’s about communication (or not!) with the person sitting opposite me. Still, we have to do SOMETHING with our four-year MSc outside of the person-centred ‘necessary and sufficient conditions’, or it would be pointless, and so we do learn some theories from both our own, and other approaches (if just for information).

Recently I had a training weekend. I learnt a lot about shame – or so I thought, anyway. Shortly after that training weekend, I had a client who was talking about shame. It went like this:

Client: …shame… things.. shame

Me (in my head): Shame! client is talking about shame! I’ve just learnt shame! There are theories. What are those theories?

Client: Keeps talking

Me (in my head): Should have paid attention to those theories. what WERE they?

Client: Still talking

Me (in my head): Shut up brain, and LISTEN!


So, the theory (or at least the fact that I had been present for some doesn’t appear to have gone in. Perhaps I have shame issues and this is a defence. One to bring to my new therapist when I see her this week..) REALLY got in the way of listening to the client. Luckily for me, the interchange in my head just took a second or two before I was able to apply the OTHER bit of theory commonly referred to as ‘bracketing’ – where you recognise that the client has provoked something in you that is about YOU, not about THEM and you say ‘hello stuff, now please move over so I can listen to my client’.

Theory – it’s useful, but in small doses. Also, should have paid more attention in class.


Finally – finding an image for ‘shame’ or ‘preoccupation’ is hard! Have a cloud. It’s not mine, but if it was mine, the best I could do right now would probably be my cats, and the only thing they’re preoccupied with at present, is sleeping.



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2 thoughts on “When theory gets in the way

  1. Sarah King says:

    Interesting. As a trainee psychotherapist studying Transactional Analysis, we have more theories than you can shake a stuck at! I totally relate to the brain chatter being distracting, but for me, it’s often unrelated to theory. The theory makes a nice framework on which to hang other ideas and intuitions; for me it really just becomes part of a new and expanded way of thinking.

    Good luck on your journey 🙂

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