When Clients Wait Until The Last Minute Of A Session To Say Something Important
Novice therapists are often blindsided and distressed when clients who spend most of the session avoiding any serious discussion suddenly drop explosive material with just a couple minutes to go.
While this behavior is usually not consciously malicious, it is usually all about control. Sometimes it’s simply that they’re afraid and aren’t ready to feel exposed for a full hour. More often what clients are doing is putting their therapists in a double bind, an unwanted situation where both responses seem bad. Therapists can either choose to extend the session, thereby breaking established norms, or they can send clients on their way and be forced to deal with a black cloud of uncertainty and doubt hanging over them until the next meeting. Regardless of the content, therapists will wonder if they missed an opportunity to explore something really important that could help create some movement.
What more experienced therapists know is that there’s a third option, and this option is to understand the meaning of the behavior and then share this meaning with their clients, in effect taking the discussion away from the manifest content and to the underlying process.
The therapeutic situation is a reflection of the way clients operate in the world at large, the way they behave towards authority figures, friends, family, and other important people in their lives. It’s not just okay but essential to point this fact out and to help clients understand the effect their behavior has on the people around them by having the courage to explain how these behaviors make them feel and what the psychology behind the behavior is. It’s okay to say, “You’re putting me in an unwanted double bind here where whatever I choose, to extend the session or to send you on your way, I feel like I lose, and with your permission I’d like us to explore that and how you enact similar behaviors with other people in your life next session.”
The therapeutic relationship needs to be about honesty and authenticity to be effective, but too many therapists keep their own uncomfortable thoughts and feelings cued off by the things their clients say and do to themselves, which they rationalize under the guise of maintaining objectivity. But objectivity can be maintained while sharing those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings simply by helping the client to focus on the process, to look for and explore the deeper meaning of the exchange rather than tacitly agreeing not to rock the boat by pretending that content and process are one and the same thing.