Good news if you feel guilty about not using experiential techniques all the time
We all know that experiential techniques like chairwork and imagery matter because they help weaken schemas and shift perspectives. Therefore, they are often seen as the holy grail of schema therapy. Using them in the room can make a therapist feel like a “real schema therapist.” Bonus points when the client cries and you reach their vulnerable child!
However, not using experiential techniques all the time can also bring therapist guilt and self-doubt because we can feel we SHOULD be doing them in every session! Hello demanding critic! And this can leave some therapists feeling like they’ve failed or are a fraud. Like they’re not really doing schema therapy at all.
So how can you reduce guilt while keeping your beautiful clients front and centre?
Know that experiential techniques (i.e., imagery or chairwork), while indeed important are one of four change strategies in schema therapy: cognitive, behavioural, experiential, limited reparenting and they’re all are valid interventions.
Remember that experiential exercises do not need to be done in every single session to bring about schema change.
Ask yourself why you are doing the experiential (or any) technique. Is it to appease your own critic? Or does it make clinical sense? Will this benefit the client?
Remain flexible by attuning to the client’s needs, pausing for a moment to collect your thoughts (I call this using thinking music), and selecting an intervention that flows from your formulation (i.e., from your understanding of which schemas and modes perpetuate the client’s difficulties),
Curb the criticism. While beating yourself up will help neither you nor your client, if you find yourself regularly avoiding experiential work, it might be worth doing additional training, reading or supervision to give you more confidence. Skills can always be improved.
Tena Davies is a Clinical Psychologist and advanced certified schema therapist in Melbourne, Australia.
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