Writing a therapy session can often be daunting. There are so many different approaches to
therapy that it’s downright impossible to say “this is how all therapy looks.”
So I’m going to be writing brief guides to help y’all figure
out what kind of therapist you should write depending on what purpose the therapy session serves within your story.
We’re gonna start with person-centered therapy, because it’s by far
the easiest to write.
The whole idea behind person-centered therapy is that all
that you need for a client to change is to really be nonjudgmental,
understanding, and 100% there for the client. There’s no fancy techniques. The therapist just builds up a relationship
with the client, and does their best to understand them.
What person-centered therapy is best for narratively:
The client character gets to express all the emotions they
really feel inside, in a safe environment with no consequences to outside relationships. It’s a great way to show, not tell, your
readers what your character is going through.
Advantages of using person-centered therapy:
You don’t have to worry about characterizing the therapist very deeply or learning fancy therapeutic techniques. Just make your therapist a good listener who never gives outright advice, and it’s hard to go wrong.
The client character is the driving force behind the session. You get to explore the client’s emotions in depth, without worrying about the therapist interfering or changing things.
It is especially effective in cases where your client character feels like no one listens to them, or that they can’t express their emotions to others in the outside world.
Disadvantages of using person-centered therapy:
Your character is carrying the weight of the scene. You have to already know exactly where your character is going before you start writing it.
Person-centered therapy is often inadequate for treating certain disorders on its own.
If you need to have an outsider tell your character what they need to be doing, you can’t use person-centered therapy.
How to portray a person-centered therapist:
Kind, compassionate, caring, an amazing listener.
Tends to nod & say “mmhmm” or “oh?” a lot.
Leans towards the client character; pays full attention to
them at all times.
Speaks less frequently than the client character.
Tends to mirror what the client character is expressing to
build their understanding of the client’s experience
“It seems like you’re saying…”
“You sound like…”
Really looks at how the client character is reacting emotionally during the session
Important: a person-centered therapist will NEVER tell the
client character what to do or how to solve their problems. The client is completely capable of figuring it out themself if the therapist can provide a safe environment for them to explore the issue in.
So what does a person-centered therapy session actually look like? Let’s find out!
Gloria: I don’t know
if [my 9 year old daughter] can accept me the way I am.
I think I paint a picture that I’m all sweet and motherly. And – I’m a
little ashamed of my shady side too.
Rogers: Mhm, mhm. I see.
It really cuts a little deeper. If she really knew you, would she,
could she accept you?
Gloria: This is what I don’t know. Yeah. I don’t want her to turn away from me.
Rogers: That relationship-
Gloria: And I don’t even know how I feel about it because there
are times when I feel so guilty like when I have a man over, I even try to make
a special set‑up so that if I were ever alone with him, the children would
never catch me in that sort of thing.
Because I’m real leery about it.
Gloria: And yet I also know that I have these
Rogers: And so it’s quite clear it isn’t only her
problem or the relationship with her, it’s in you as well.
Gloria: And my guilt. Yeah. Yeah. I feel guilty so often.
And later on, Rogers is super aware of how Gloria is expressing her emotions, and looking at what that means:
Gloria: …I hate myself if I’m bad, but I also hate myself if I lie.
Rogers: I guess, judging from your tone of voice, you sound as though you hate yourself more when you lie than you do in terms of things you disapprove of in behavior.
Even later on, Rogers reflects what Gloria was saying, in a way that made Gloria feel understood:
Gloria: …This has really bothered me. This happened with Pammy about a month ago and it keeps coming to my mind. I don’t know whether to go back and talk to her about it or wait. She may have even forgotten what she asked me, but uh – it just-
Rogers: The point is, you haven’t forgotten.
Gloria: I haven… No, I haven’t.
So that’s kind of an overview of what person-centered therapy looks like! It’s not too bad, right?
Stay tuned next month for something a LOT more complicated!
“Dear Ginger, You are a real champ and you proved it all over again on our show. The reaction has been great! I have just been asked to give my definition of a star to ‘This Week’ magazine and am using you as an example of the qualities that enter into stardom […] My dear Virginia McMath, I want you back on the show, so drop me a note and let me know your available dates. Affectionately, Ed” – letter from Ed Sullivan to Ginger Rogers, dated 1963, published as part of The Ginger Rogers Collection at the Gotlieb Archival Research Center