This post is the 2nd post in my blog series Five Key Factors of How Therapy Helps.
A good assessment from an objective person is an essential factor in how therapy can help. Let me say first that I am never the expert of a client. My clients are experts of themselves. My expertise is in my intuition, honed by training and experience, for helping people to understand themselves and to gain access to their blind spots. We then work together to clarify the problem, identify steps to take, and then I walk alongside my clients as they take the steps.
Assessment is an ongoing process.
While I’m good at sniffing things out, therapy is not detective work. The therapeutic relationship is at the forefront, and the assessment is in the background.
The relationship itself plays an assessment role. For example, the dynamic between my client and me tells me a lot of what is going on with her—I can feel it. Sometimes her feelings are in sync with her words, and sometimes they’re not. When they’re not, it’s usually the feelings that are more on target. This contradiction between her words and feelings points me to her blind spots. I make assessments through my head, heart, and gut. My head allows me to apply my knowledge of psychology to what I see in my client. I can feel empathy for my client when my heart connects with her and fuels my capacity for empathetic understanding. My gut is a physical intuition where I can feel sadness or tension even before she speaks.
A word about diagnosis.
People are complex, and there is no litmus test for emotional experiences. Diagnoses are useful concepts but are imperfect concepts, nonetheless. And certain cases, diagnoses are more valuable than in others. For example, some manifestations of bipolar moods have clear-cut manic and depressive periods. Naming this problem is very useful because many people respond well to medication, and in most cases, it’s the best option.
On the other hand, sometimes, a diagnosis cannot sufficiently capture what’s going on. For example, often mild depression or anxiety is very situationally based. It can be from tension in a relationship or stress in the workplace, and a diagnosis cannot adequately capture what’s going on. I am very cautious about unnecessarily labeling the human experience.