Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

How Personal Can Training Get?

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

How Personal Can Training Get?

Article excerpt

The basic premise of person of the therapist training is that therapy is a personal encounter within a professional frame. Although theory and technique are essential to the professional practice of therapy, the process is effected wholly through the relationship between therapist and client.

This means that to fathom the therapy relationship, one must understand its components, both personal and professional. The professional aspects of the relationship define the roles of the participants vis-a-vis one another. The personal component of the therapy relationship viscerally relates the therapist to the client's life.


Therapy challenges clinicians to use their personal selves effectively within the professional relationship. The personal component of this relationship is not about some generic liking and acceptance of clients. It is specific to the goals and means of therapy. Thus therapists need training that both opens them to themselves and teaches them vulnerability, discipline, and freedom within the relationship. One approach, the person/practice model (Aponte & Winter, 1987) attempts to integrate intensely personal work on the self with clinical practice. It illustrates well some of the dilemmas over boundaries that confront trainers and trainees who pursue this personal focus in professional training.


Training is organized around year-long programs. Trainees work in groups of around 12, led by two-person teams. Trainees meet monthly for 2 days at a time and present their material to the trainers individually on a rotation schedule. They use 1 hour to discuss personal issues or clinical material. They use 2-hour periods for live interviews with client families and occasionally with their own family members.

In the program, trainees seek to:

1. Understand and conceptualize issues from their lives by:

(a) identifying and interpreting themes in their histories and current relationships through their genograms and personal family sessions;

(b) accessing emotionally their own personal struggles, past and present;

(c) articulating templates for themselves for how they have succeeded and failed with their personal and family issues;

(d) making explicit for themselves personal values, philosophy, and social factors that drive their lives and affect their therapy.

2. Gain mastery over their personal issues through:

(a) taking into personal therapy unresolved issues, especially those experienced in the professional context;

(b) learning to think about, feel, and live with unresolved issues in order to facilitate working with them in therapy;

(c) pursuing limited understanding, resolution, and management of their issues through their clinical practice.

3. Learn to use themselves in therapy by:

(a) developing the capacity for personal intimacy, mutuality, and commitment with clients inside professional boundaries;

(b) discovering their clients in themselves and themselves in their clients through empathy (Margulies, 1989);

(c) differentiating self from their clients within the shared experience of the therapy process (Kerr, 1981);

(d) developing the skill to work with the connections between their own and clients' values and personal philosophy;

(e) integrating their personal work with a professional model of therapy to achieve theoretical and practical congruity of the use of self in their therapy.

In summary:

1. Therapists develop the capacity to assess their personal emotions and reactions within the therapeutic transaction.

2. They learn how, in light of their own life experience, to interpret what these reactions tell them about their clients.

3. Clinicians learn how to forge interventions out of their model of therapy plus an understanding of client needs.

Training the person of the therapist not only opens therapists up to themselves but also delves into the boundaries between therapist and client. …

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