In a recent and highly popular book entitled A General Theory of Love Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon make a brave and, in my view, perfectly correct statement. They say that among the myriad of counseling and psychotherapeutic ‘schools’, ‘approaches’ and ‘techniques’ today, there is only one difference in the effectiveness for the client: how much the therapist is prepared to ‘run with the wolves’.
By this they mean that those therapists who are willing to plunge into the world of the client and work to help them better understand and manage their situation will tend to be successful, regardless of their theoretical or methodological background. Those who prefer to maintain a distance will be much less able to help the clients change their ways of seeing the world and reacting to it.
Lewis’ and others’ statement points to the very core of counseling, which is that counselors and clients enter what is known in modern philosophy as a ‘polylog’: the counselor listens to the client’s narrative and allows it to influence the counselor’s, world. In turn, the counselor is able to react to the client’s narrative and influence the client’s perceptions of the world. The ensuing process is intense, complex and often draining for the counselor. Lewis, Amini and Lannon conclude that, after a substantial time, this process changes the client. Hopefully, these changes result in a better and more fulfilling life.
Lewis and others offer a complex account of how and why this happens from the point of view of neuroscience. They show that, by ‘running with the wolves’, the counselor is able to systematically influence the neurological structures in the client. The result of this is, in a sense, a changed client, one whose ability to understand and manage situations is different from what it had been before the counseling.
However, as Lewis and others rightly point out, this profound change can only occur after a long and often difficult counseling processes. Counseling is not a manipulative process: it is not designed to quickly create a sense of relief, and then allow the problems to return with a vengeance. Successful counseling always takes time, consists of small steps in the right direction, and gradually leads the client away from the problems and into a more fulfilling and happier life.
The relationship between the client and the counselor is the foundation of the client’s emancipation and progress in addressing the issues. Such a relationship is a source of stability and must be built with care and dedication by both sides. Once this edifice of the counseling process is erected, time must be allowed to pass to maximally exploit its potential. The ‘capital’ concentrated in the properly established relationship of trust between the counselor and client is larger than any short-term fix: it can be used repeatedly to address various issues, and is potentially a life-long resource for the client, whether they use it only once or many times. It is a potent tool for the client to make progress in making themselves more able to cope with life and to turn it into positive and fulfilling experiences.