There are some things about being a psychotherapist that I didn’t know about until I was a psychotherapist.
Two of my counseling peers tell the same amusing story about me from grad school (because it happened on two separate occasions). When I was in counseling practicum I had a client that would swear a lot and when you’re a therapist and counseling skills are built around reflective communication, you sometimes have to reflect a client’s statements and feelings using their words so you don’t come across as judgmental. So, I was being observed by a peer from the other room over CCTV for feedback after my session, and apparently as I was using my client’s swear words to reflect back his feelings about something and my observer started giggling. Since a number of other peers were also in the room observing other sessions, they all asked my observer what was so funny. My observer responded, “Kyle’s swearing!”
I take a bit of confidence in those stories because I guess it means my peers knew me well enough to know I wasn’t the kind of guy who used expletives in everyday conversation. So much so that it gave them the giggles to see it happen.
In the time that’s passed since then, I’ve kind of become a convert to the idea that sometimes you have to swear when talking with clients. I still don’t swear in everyday conversation, but I have found that once the therapy room door shuts there are times that you’ve got to drop some harsh words. I’ve learned some tricks to it though:
- Only swear if the client swears.
- Use the same level swear words the client uses.
- Save them for the statements that you want to have some meaning.
- Don’t fumble them off your tongue, say them naturally.
I know that this might come as a shock to some people who know me, or who are Mormon that might be surprised by this, but think about it. Doesn’t it have a lot more weight when you tell someone “You’re not going to f***ing kill yourself!” than “You have the strength to not kill yourself.”?
Anyway, it’s funny. I made it through my teenage years without developing a swearing problem, but now here solidly in my adulthood I spend the occasional hour where I would fit in with the surliest of sailors.
I wonder what other LDS therapists think about this.