Presence Alone: Learning the basics over and over

One thing I didn’t consider about my new career as a psychologist was how precious my client facing hours would become. 

All through my training at MSP, we discussed and labored over how to be with our clients: how to listen and really hear, how to use nonverbal cues to learn even more, how to challenge and confront.  This is the craft that I practiced.  This is the work I wanted for my life. 

Fast forward to a year post graduation and I find myself reflecting on the 40 hour work week.  How many of those hours are spent “face to face” and how many are spent on the phone, in my car, or in front of my computer?

I don’t discount the necessity of these hours.  And this is not meant to be a rant about time wasted in redundant cycles of paperwork or the inefficiencies in the mental health system (though it could be).  Rather, I want to focus on the positive and talk about the good stuff.

At MSP, I learned about presence – a way of being with a client through my attention, my body language, and my awareness.  This tool of presence has become increasingly important because with many of my clients (adults who are diagnosed with intellectual disabilities and who often have mental health challenges and physical disabilities as well) we do not have the luxury of spoken language.

Often, I spend my time talking with and training caregivers to help support my client toward behavioral goals.  But my favorite time is when the talking and training is over and I can focus my attention and bring my presence to connecting with a client.

This is not always easy.  Many of my clients are strongly resistant to any change to their routine, so my arrival on a random Tuesday may not be welcome. 

But over time, I find that if I can bring a consistency to my way of being and if I can communicate my interest in spending time together and finding out what is important to them, progress is made.  The resistance softens.  Sometimes I get a smile when I arrive or perhaps the most fleeting of eye contact.  And this feels like a victory. 

This work strengthens my skills as a therapist – it forces me to cut to the bone of what I can bring to another person.  There are no fancy tricks I can use, no witty revelations of insight that will demonstrate to a client that I am connected and listening to them. 

All I have is presence alone.  And most of the time, it is enough.

Cynthia Ransley, MA, TLLPCynthia Ransley, MA, TLLP is Social Media Copywriter for MSP.