imperius curses

An opinion is still an opinion if you put a question mark at the end

Therapists usually see themselves as facilitators rather than advice-givers or problem-solvers. They generally believe things like:

  • “We never tell people what to do”
  • “We create space to support them through figuring it out.”
  • “We raise questions.”
  • “We don’t give advice, we let them come up with solutions.”

Thing is: “raising questions” in practice amounts to expressing a lot of opinions. An opinion is still an opinion when it is phrased as a question. It’s *especially* still an opinion when it is phrased as a series of leading questions and pregnant pauses.

It matters what therapists of any kind believe about their clients; they can’t help very much without understanding what’s going on. That’s a reason why psychologists and other types of therapists spend years in school learning psychological theories and practical methods. One of the major ways in which therapists are sometimes able to help people is by having well-informed opinions and understanding things that others don’t.

It’s ok for therapists to have opinions — but they need to be well-informed, and they need to be able to modify them in response to new information. (Eg: Sometimes the patient knows something you don’t, sometimes there’s social or cultural context that changes the meaning, etc.)

I think that it is much easier to have a worthwhile opinion if you can admit to yourself and others that you have opinions and that your opinions affect other people.

tl;dr Therapists tend to express their opinions to clients phrased as a series of questions. They think that this means they’re not expressing an opinion, but rather just asking and creating space for the client to think. It matters that this is not true. Therapists have opinions (and should have opinions), and being honest about that makes it much easier to learn new things and make your opinions needed. An opinion is still an opinion if you put a question mark at the end.

Facing other people's pain

Sometimes, it’s very hard for people to acknowledge other people’s suffering.

It sometimes follows this kind of pattern (I picked arbitrary names to make it easier to read):

  • Sam is suffering in some major way
  • Otto finds this incredibly painful to witness
  • Otto can’t fix the problem that is causing Sam pain
  • Otto pressures Sam into reassuring him by pretending that he’s feeling ok and it’s not so bad
  • This allows Otto to ignore what’s going on, and to not have to be upset about Sam’s pain anymore
  • Sam’s situation gets worse, but Otto gets to feel better

It’s easy to fall into treating someone this way without realizing it, especially if you’re in a helping profession. If your identity is centered around being helpful to others, it can be very painful to acknowledge important things you can’t fix. It’s still really important to acknowledge them, because otherwise you end up hurting people. It’s really important to develop emotional coping skills to be able to acknowledge pain that you can’t fix.

If other people are doing this to you, it can sometimes be disorienting, especially when the people who do it are otherwise genuinely helpful. It’s really degrading when others pressure you to pretend to be ok so that they can feel better. Sometimes, this is hard to detect clearly. Sometimes, people are making it much better than it’s ever been — and you’re genuinely grateful for that — but at the same time, it’s still pretty awful, and they want you to convince them that everything is wonderful.

Most people experience both sides of this dynamic at some point in their life. Whichever side of it you’re on, it helps to remember that it’s a thing, and that it’s not ok. People shouldn’t pressure others to pretend they’re ok when they’re not.