Show your workings

Molnija inside

Molnija inside (Photo credit: Kaensu)

Any trainee or trained therapist will have heard this many times I suspect: ‘show your workings’. Certainly it’s something I seem to hear every other (training) day. For a long time I was really resistant to the idea, essentially, that I should explain exactly where I was coming from in the statements that I was making. For me this has stemmed back to childhood – in maths class, we were told that if we put our ‘workings out’ down, even if we got the answer wrong, we might get a point for the working out. I never wrote my workings out down. That might account for my C grade – we’ll never know.. As an adult, people often tell me they don’t understand me, but have never elaborated on why. Certainly I can see differences in the way I related and the way some others relate, but it hasn’t been until I became a psychotherapy student that I am hearing this so much more. As a trainee in group process, in triad feedback discussion, I have learnt the notion that it is important to show my working, and let people know why I am saying the things I’m saying. It doesn’t come easily, something I disocvered recently when preparing for a joint presentation that two of my cohort and I are presenting this weekend (‘is person-centred therapy an appropriate treatment for eating disorders?’). I put into our dropbox folder some of the work I was working on, some my fellow-student formulated a response based on it. However, I had assumed that what I was doing would be directed at the third member of our group and had some some of the work around that also. Although I’m confident that we can use my classmate’s work (due to the way we have done it, it should all be fine) I think it’s going to take some re-working – we haven’t seen our third classmate’s work at all), it would have saved my classmate some time potentially if I had said ‘hi all, I’ve put this up and this is the reason for it. I would like you to/not to do X with it. Luckily for me, my second classmate has taken this with good grace and like I say, I’m convinced we’ll use it all, but it would have saved her that moment when I replied with my thoughts and she realised she had spent hours on something that wasn’t intended for her. (actually, this is a really good example of group working. In my last group work of this type, I think we micro-managed ourselves, and left ourselves open to stress that way. This time round I think we – different classmates – have ‘managed’ far less and have left ourselves to our own devices, with the net result that currently I feel less prepared). ‘Showing your workings’ also links into openness to experience and the issue of defences. As I say – this is something that goes back to childhood for me – a place where it was safest to reveal as little of yourself as possible. Even back then my refusal to show my workings got me in trouble a few times. It did also ‘save’ me a few times, and those must be the ones that are more deeply ingrained. ‘Showing my workings’ is a concept that i am becoming *more* comfortable with, but I would not in any way say that this was a happy place for me. When it comes to clients, I try and be a little more open – I am mindful that I don’t want to be seen as ‘expert’ by making pronouncements, and also, when I say ‘I hear you say X, and I guess I am wondering if this relates to Y, for these reasons’. it slows me down far more than saying ‘is this related to Y?’ and that in itself is helpful. I read a paper recently (that I can’t now find to link to) that suggests that it is only as we speak that the meaning of our words becomes clear to us, and slowing that down surely helps in that process.   In short, it’s something I could be much better at, but I have come to see the value of it – people like to know what you *mean* when you say things – including me, and showing my workings just helps to make that happen. Sometimes it’s a useful poke to remember that my childhood is not now, and I can take being poked in my soft spots if it means showing my workings and letting people know not just ‘where’ I am in my thinking, but also ‘why’ I am.

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