Tag Archives: Paul Wachtel

Power grabs by therapists


We counselors and therapists have ways of asserting our power over our clients. Usually, we do it via subtle messages and phrases. I was reminded of this fact last week during a seminar by Paul Wachtel of CUNY. He told of a case he had of a semi paranoid and hostile client who made many complaints. After one such complaint against him, Wachtel responded with,

Isn’t it interesting that you see me as being just the way your father was

These type of insights offer pseudo-neutral “observations” that are really accusatory and given to show our intellect (but draws them away from their affective state). Further, when we are irritated and make a statement like this we are really saying that my frustration isn’t about me but is about you. I’m objective here, you are not.

When we give insights to clients we need to ask whether or not the client already understands them, will feel that we are working WITH them (not talking at them), and be motivated to do more exploration. As Wachtel stated, insights are often “implicitly adversarial” (never about us either!).

These kinds of linguistic power grabs aren’t just done by analytic oriented therapists (who might be inclined to make distant insights into clients’ unconscious). Cognitive therapists do the same by implicitly and explicitly telling clients that they are irrational and if only they could think like we therapists, they would be so much better.

Let’s not forget that the words we use with clients tell something about ourselves–maybe more than we wish they would.

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