One definition of therapy that I appreciate is the idea that therapy means movement, “movement in relationship towards better connection.” (Baker, 2002) That connection could be between the client and other people in their lives, their broader world/enviroment, or just within themselves. In the counselling space, that movement towards connection happens in the context of the relationship between a therapist and a client.
Typically, however, we often think about the movement, or growth, in therapy being only on the part of the client, they are afterall, the ones seeking change. They are paying an expert to help them find and discover genuine and liberating movement in their personal lives.
But what if liberating therapy, by which I mean therapy that empowers and creates room for increasing freedom, requires more than just movement on the part of the client?
This is a question I ask myself a lot as I listen to and sit with others. I ask the question because I have a vested interest in the growth of my clients - I want them to thrive and find ways to be increasingly unburdened and free. I also want the same for myself. And I believe the two are linked- my freedom is intertwined with the freedom of my clients (and the rest of the world).
I also ask this because I wonder how the dynamics in the small little space between myself and the client might ripple out into the world at large. If I - the “expert” - am not moved to grow and change as I sit and hold the vulnerability of my clients stories (which so often means hearing the ways that those in their lives with power have hurt them) then I cannot expect that the broader world will do anything different.
What sort of relationship would it be if there was not genuine mutual change on the part of both parties? If a therapist was not moved to change in the context of relating with a client and their own precarity, would this not replicate limiting structural dynamics in the broader world? What is limited when a therapist is unwilling to change or adapt or move as they relate to the person they are working alongside and for?
It is because of these questions that I believe that mutuality in therapy, the mutual reciprocity between client and therapist, is essential in the work against structural and systemic oppression.
As I write, I think about the words of a queer reverend, Liz Edman (2019), who suggested that, as a result of a healthy conversation, “a conversation that is open and honest and where there is shared power, two or more people free each other up which then empowers them to free up others.” When a therapy session can be a space that upends dominant power dynamics and fosters mutuality (shared investment, interest, power, and change), it offers the potential to ripple out. It creates an experience of mutual empowerment that both parties can transfer out into their broader worlds and experiences.
Miller Baker, Jean. 2002. How Change Happens: Controlling Images, Mutuality, and Power.
Work in Progress, no. 96, 1-13.
Edman, Elizabeth. May, 2019. The Samaritan Woman - Revisiting the Dominant Narrative