Therapeutic Encouragement

Published March 16, 20120, The NASAP Newlsetter (TNN), Erik Mansager, PhD

The stuff of Classical Adlerian Depth Psychotherapy (CADP) is never a fixed formula applied to clients. This goes for therapeutic encouragement as well. While there are general guidelines about the process, the specific application must be re-invented for each of our clients. Their personal effort needs to be inspired to grow and then to be compared with their old activities. Seeing their current development compared to where they have been in the recent past offers encouragement to sustain their growth in the new direction.

So, how does therapeutic encouragement happen? Is it a technique or an art? Is encouragement found in a rich list of memorized sayings that are at the ready and strategically applied? Does a permanent smile on a counselor’s face or readiness to offer a pat on the back encourage personal and interpersonal growth? Adler suggests the origin of encouragement is more elusive. It originates in authentically caring interactions between the therapist and client. If our clients can begin to feel our care as a sense of equality, they can extend it to the new tasks in front of them.

Adler came down on the side of art and creativity; he guided therapists to look at their clients’ level of social interest and to invent ways of increasing this from the first meeting forward. He identified encouragement as the heart of therapy. The Ansbachers (1956, p. 341) said his view of the therapeutic atmosphere was one that decreased the client’s feeling of inferiority while simultaneously stimulated their remnant of social interest into adequate development. How does that work?

Our aim is to nurture an increasingly cooperative interaction with our clients which they will eventually be able to activate with others. Cooperation might first take the form of arriving on time and sharing the talking-time of the therapeutic hour. Later it includes the client’s acceptance of slowing down their patterns of talk and behavior and considering the therapists comments.

So often clients report with frustration what is going on in their lives. We sense their impatience and hear their demands for immediate success. Adlerian depth therapists work to highlight whatever progress has actually been made – especially that which clients do not consciously register. For this we need a clear view of clients as they present themselves, as they compare to others in similar situations, and as to what they are avoiding.

Our job will be to raise our clients’ awareness of the good feeling they have when they positively impact another – however slightly. Those good feelings are the conditions under which they persist in their efforts, growing in awareness of their progress.

For example, clients might report –- despite having followed a therapeutic suggestion to “listen differently to a spouse” or deliberately “not having the last word in a conversation” with their child -- that it had little or no effect on the other. The therapist’s work then would guide a discussion about the non-verbal responses of the spouse or child, imagining in their mind’s eye what was different. Following up any observations the client recalls by inquiring about their feeling state can surprise clients. They do feel a positive difference – often due to their impact on the other. This feeling has seldom been attended to before. Helping them become aware of the nascent feeling of impacting others positively prepares them to notice it next time and to grow this ability again in similar interactions. They are then far more likely to repeat the behavior that brought about the pleasant reaction. This is how strength builds on strength – the psychological material on which all growth takes place.

So we have an illustration of Adler’s method for winning over clients’ good will and helping them transfer it to their environment. This is just one micro-step toward positive self-other awareness that grows our social interest: the sole aim of encouragement.