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Managing self and maintaining therapeutic presence

Therapeutic presence

Table of Contents

The systematic observation of the facts has had unequal importance throughout the history of Psychology: It did not have great development until psychology began to be considered as “behavioural science”, and reached a great boom.

It constitutes a direct method of collecting information, focused on external behaviours and that allows collecting that information in the natural environment of the client. This is important both for the performance of the functional analysis prior to the intervention and for the evaluation of its efficacy.

Whilst in a coaching session, the coach must be fully aware of what the client is saying and respond accordingly. The coach’s response will help set the direction/ path for the client’s desired outcome. The coach should also be aware of his or her biases and not let these biases influence the coaching process. This can completely derail the session and hamper the process. The coach must also be competent to demonstrate confidence in himself/ herself and in the process that they are planning to use with the client. 

What is bias and how can it impact a coaching session? 

Bias is a tendency to favour one explanation, opinion, or understanding over another perspective that is potentially equally valid.

In any given situation where a person undergoes a negative experience, it may be noticed that the individual will often blame either another person or the circumstances. The trigger is always seen in external factors. However, when something untoward or unexpected event takes place in someone else’s life, especially negative, then they often tend to blame other individuals for their personal choices, behaviours, and actions.

For example, when a doctor tells a patient that they need to work on their weight or cut down their cholesterol levels, the patient may blame factors that are beyond their control, such as genetic or environmental influences. But what happens when someone else discovers that their cholesterol levels are too high? In such situations, people attribute it to things like poor diet and lack of exercise. In other words, when it is happening to us, it is out of our control, but when it is happening to someone else, it is all their fault.

It has been found through numerous researchers that people often do not tend to yield or give in to this bias more with people they know well, like close friends, colleagues and family. It is important to analyse why we succumb less to these facts. This is because with close friends, colleagues and family, we invariably have more access to a lot of personal information. Information like their wants and needs, their motivations and thoughts. Even in cases where we do not know the client well, we tend to give way for our biases to work. 

Hence, it becomes extremely important to build a strong therapeutic alliance with the client devoid of judgement and biases. Whether the therapy consultation is individual, couple or family, the therapist must establish what is called a Therapeutic Alliance: that is, understand that we work with human, difficult and sensitive problems and have considerable value for the person who consults. In short, have empathy and demonstrate it so that the consultant trusts us.

Whatever the intervention model, the approach or the theory from which a coach/ therapist approaches the therapy, it is necessary that they establish an adequate therapeutic relationship. The social connection that characterizes the therapeutic bond or alliance, constitutes the base on which the fabric that allows the recovery of lost security in the people who ask for help rests. This interesting and peculiar interaction is an intrinsic and irreplaceable part of the psychotherapy process.

To build a strong therapeutic alliance, it is very important for the coach/ therapist to manage his/ her therapeutic presence. If we ask any therapist about the importance of presence in therapy, an overwhelming majority would say that it is fundamental, but what is the content behind the term presence? Or what does the term therapeutic presence truly mean?

Therapeutic presence
therapeutic presence is essential to help clients

1. Therapeutic Presence

In the first instance, it means being present. A patient who comes to the therapy session to solve the problems in his life, to reduce his suffering, needs his therapist to be present. That is, the patient needs his or her therapist to be with him or her, in the here and now and with his or her full attention to what is happening in the session. That he is focused on verbal and non-verbal communication, on his patient’s emotions, following the meaning of what is happening, and knowing the why of his therapeutic interventions. Being fully present and fully human is a healer on its own. 

2. Remove assumptions

One of the most important questions that the coach/ therapist should ask themselves regarding the coach-therapist relationships is: “What will be required of me in this relationship, during this particular moment, of this specific person’s existence?” The only befitting reply to this would be ‘remove assumptions’.

3. Three main components

It is very important for the coach/ therapist to bear in mind the three main components while attending to any client or during a coaching/ therapy session.

  • Availability and openness
  • Openness to own experience
  • Ability to respond to the querent

4. Experience the presence

  • Being with and for the client consultant
  • Total immersion of the senses in the therapeutic encounter
  • Body and consciousness expansion
  • Feeling of rootedness and internal connection

5. Preparation and Process

It is extremely important for the coach/ therapist to experience being in the presence and follow the below mentioned basic four principles.

The coach/ therapist should prepare himself/ herself before every session by breathing, emptying and letting go of internal biases. In addition to this during the process the following factors are also essential:

  • Be receptive to everything. Be open, accepting and permissive
  • Be authentic and places self in the shoes of the client
  • Be able to understand own limitations and be in constant contact with the client’s emotions.
Double level consciousness in the therapeutic presence

6. Double level of consciousness

In whichever phase of life, the coach or the therapist is in, it’s important for them to operate with the double level of consciousness. In other words, while attempting to connect with the client’s emotions and experiences it is important that he/she is not impacted or influenced with own experiences. Hence, being able to maintain a balance between own experience and that of a consultant should not cross paths.

Despite all of the above measures, there might be situations when the coaches do get under the influence of their own emotions and experience. After all, coaches are not superhumans! 

In such situations, it is essential for the coach to be aware of their prejudices and biases, effectively address them and look at ways in preventing them affect their coaching/therapy sessions. Some of the tips that can be handy for any coach/therapist before each session are:-

  1. Identify The Origin Of Your Biases
  2. Analyze Each Situation Objectively
  3. Check In With Your Emotions And Energy
  4. Leverage Self-Awareness And Supervision
  5. Keep The Focus On The Client’s Needs
  6. Ask Great Questions With An Open Mind
  7. Rely On Evidence-Based Information
  8. Treat Your Biases With Curiosity
  9. Make Sure You Know Your Limits
  10. Enable The Client To Point Out Bias