In my last blog, we discussed the impact that deep levels of engagement have in helping clients overcome their mental health struggles. This engagement between the counselor and the client creates a relationship that produces three powerful dynamics:
- The empathy extended by the counselor helps the client feel understood. Finally, they know that someone understands their pain and what it’s like. Feeling understood without being judged is one of the core human needs.
- The TQ (Trust Quotient) between the counselor and client increases to a point where the client can trust the therapist to influence them. The therapist can now begin modeling how healthier thoughts, emotions, and desires can be established. The client’s observation of these new patterns of behavior provides a powerful learning experience. This is in keeping with the adage: “A sermon watched is always more powerful than one heard.”
- The therapist begins validating the client. Validation, when done authentically, is a powerful self-worth booster that builds hope and self-confidence.
WHY DO EMPATHY, TRUST, AND VALIDATION MATTER SO MUCH?
The universal pain that’s experienced by so many people grows out of poor self-worth. Most of us struggle with this issue to different degrees. When you include a traumatic event or series of difficult events to the experience of low self-worth, it can drive a person into having mental health struggles. During these struggles, our sense of self-worth can be eroded even further, leading to thoughts like Am I good enough? Do I have what it takes? Am I wanted by anyone? Do I belong anywhere? and, Do I matter? These negative and nagging questions consume our thoughts, leading us to devalue ourselves. This, in turn, can raise powerful negative emotional states like fear, rejection, shame, worthlessness, anger resentment, and so on.
Many mental health struggles stem from or result in relationship fractures and violations. As such, recovery often requires the opposite. In other words, recovery starts with engaging in healthy relationships that involve empathy, trust, and validation.
For example, when Sally was 12-years-old, she experienced sexual abuse. This was followed by her parents going through a divorce the following year. After this, trusting people was hard for her. She began to feel disconnected from people. She experienced very little empathy, trust, and validation as she grew up. Time passed. Then Sally developed a deep connection with her counselor. She was able to regain a strong sense of empathy, trust, and validation. This helped her overcome her mental health struggles.
In John’s case, instead of receiving validation growing up, he experienced excessive judgment by his father. He grew up always wondering if he was good enough. Was his father right in that he wasn’t? This negative judgment by his father continued into John’s adulthood. John was then able to develop an engaging relationship with his shop foremen and his wife. These relationships provided John with much-needed empathy, trust, and validation. He was able to build up his self-worth and overcome his anxiety.
Engagement is a power interpersonal dynamic. It is being recognized within the mental health communities all over North American as a critical factor for individuals to recover from their mental health struggles. Despite this recognition, it’s still not widely practiced. This should not prevent you; however, from including engagement in any work you or a loved one do to overcome a mental health struggle.