Learning to be Flexible and Curious
By Camille Williams, LCPC, CEDS, Therapist, Timberline Knolls
When I was a new therapist, I felt pressure to have all the answers. I wanted to be viewed as a competent and knowledgeable therapist. I also wanted the comfort and security of having the answers because that feels better than not knowing. Even though I knew therapy was a process, a part of me thought my job was to have all the answers for someone navigating hardships and wanting to create change in life.
I have come to realize how unconstructive my initial desire to have answers was for both myself and the individuals I was working with. Even though the unknown is scary, letting go of “knowing” and having “answers” has actually reduced the pressure I felt. It also allows the therapeutic space to be filled with curiosity, learning, creativity, flexibility, and individualization. It is an important reminder that while I may have education and experience in therapy and the recovery process, I will never have someone else’s “answers.” Instead, I hope to model flexibility and curiosity for my clients so they can begin to develop and strengthen themselves. This is a powerful tool that can extend beyond therapy.
Flexibility for me, as a therapist, means being willing to take an alternative path or explore a different perspective. It also means letting go of my ideas about the recovery process when they are not suitable or do not fit for that individual. Being flexible allows me to understand more effective methods of treatment for each individual. If I am rigidly attached to my initial beliefs, or the ways I typically approach therapy, that will automatically limit what I can provide and how far therapy can extend.
Curiosity may be natural at the start of a therapeutic relationship when getting to know a client and it needs to be maintained throughout the duration of treatment. Just as I am constantly evolving and changing, so are the individuals I work with.
I need to stay curious about myself and my clients throughout the therapeutic relationship. This can also be a humility check to make sure that I am not assuming I know more about the client than they know about themselves or their experiences. Being curious and staying curious allows space to hypothesize, ask questions, find answers, and continue asking more questions.
If I let go of the need to have answers or the need to be right and remain focused on flexibility and curiosity, that will help in seeing reality rather than a distortion of what I anticipate seeing. I can be open and curious about all possibilities and if some of the pieces don’t fit, I can be flexible and shift gears into new curiosity and exploration.
When I bring flexibility and curiosity into a therapeutic relationship, the individuals I work with are also much more willing to be flexible and curious with me, and in turn, with themselves.
*The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders and not intended as endorsement by iaedp™ Foundation, Inc. or its Board of Directors.*