Just like our clients, clinicians can also experience blocks. These blocks manifest as our own emotions, reactions, and personal challenges that we bring into the therapy room. It can be perplexing to know what to do about it.
The most difficult part is when we believe that we shouldn’t have these blocks. However, it is only natural for us as humans to have emotions and associations that shape our relational connections with others. Accepting this reality is the first step towards working through our blocks.
But what exactly is a clinician block? It occurs when we find ourselves stuck in our clinical work, hindering our ability to see clearly. This can manifest as willfulness, resistance, apathy, anxiety, control, being overly directive, intellectualizing, or avoidance. These responses make it challenging for therapists to provide their best work. We may misinterpret the situation or the client’s needs, prematurely terminate the therapeutic relationship, or struggle to see opportunities for growth and change.
So how do we overcome these blocks? One effective technique, developed in Emotion Focused Family Therapy, involves working through the block with the help of a supervisor, consultant, or peer. The therapist places an empty chair in front of them and begins to explore the situation or challenge they are facing with their client. They examine their reactions and what has been difficult.
The therapist then engages in a dialogue with the empty chair, imagining it as the client. They switch chairs and respond from the client’s perspective. This back-and-forth process continues until they gain insights into what is blocking them and what they are struggling to let go of. This technique can help therapists identify and process their own emotions and experiences, leading to a deeper understanding of themselves and their clients.
I have used this technique with supervisees, and it has proven to be a powerful way for therapists to gain self-awareness and understand what arises in sessions that cause them to struggle or become distracted. Past supervisees have shared that this technique helped them understand their anxiety with clients, uncover the origins of their judgments, and address their frustrations with the lack of progress in therapy. It is important to recognize that we all experience blocks at some point in our careers.
I encourage you to embrace these moments of challenge and seize the opportunity to learn more about yourself. This powerful technique allows the therapeutic relationship to evolve and grow stronger. It also helps therapists become more attuned to their clients’ needs, leading to more effective and meaningful therapy sessions. As we continue to practice self-reflection and work through our blocks, we can ultimately provide the best care possible for our clients. So let us acknowledge and embrace our blocks as opportunities for growth and development in our professional journey.
What happens if we don’t reflect or learn from our blocks? Our blocks can lead to countertransference, where our unresolved issues and emotions unconsciously impact the therapeutic relationship. This can result in misinterpretations, misunderstandings, and ultimately compromise the effectiveness of therapy. It is imperative that we take responsibility for our own emotional well-being and actively work through any blocks that may arise. Another negative impact can be the vulnerability of burnout or compassion fatigue. As therapists, we often listen to and hold the pain and struggles of our clients, which can be emotionally draining. If we do not address our blocks and take care of ourselves, we can become overwhelmed and exhausted, leading us to question our career choice.
In conclusion, therapists need to acknowledge and work through their blocks to provide a safe and supportive space for our clients to heal and grow. Ultimately, self-awareness and self-reflection are essential tools also for the clinician who is looking for a long and satisfying career. So let us continue to embrace and work through our blocks with openness and curiosity, as it will ultimately benefit both ourselves and our clients.
If you are interested in participating in Clinician Block Chair Work, please sign up here.