On Not Knowing How To Do It

I keep going through this little cycle in my head.  

I'm waiting for a client to show up.  A little part of me notices that I
don't know how I'm going to work with them and wants me to be nervous.

It doesn't matter whether I've seen them before or not.  Whatever I've
learned about working with them in the past may not be relevant today.
Moreover, I've found that whenever I try to systematize what has worked
well for a particular client, I lose the empathic connection, and what
worked then doesn't work as well anymore.  So, knowing how we've worked
before is not reassuring for the part of me that wants me to be nervous.

Then I notice I'm not actually nervous.  I'm not completely at peace,
certainly -- I'm tuned up to be receptive of and responsive to another
person, and that other person isn't here.

But I'm not confident, either.  Confidence (for the moment) is having
something solid to stand on regarding the near future.  All I have to
stand on is being aware of myself, which is only solid enough for right
now.  I know when I'm with the client, I'll be aware of myself in *that*
moment (as best I can), but that does me no good in advance because I
don't know what that will be like.

I'm too aware of Not Knowing How To Do It to be confident.

And then the client shows up, and as we interact I start learning about
where they're at and what they want today.  I respond to what I hear,
and we proceed to do work that the client usually reports as having been
productive and relevant to their problem(s).  Afterwards as I make my
notes, I reflect: I still don't know how to do it.

(Process illustrating content: when I sat down to write this essay, all
I had was the title.  I didn't know what I was going to say until I

It genuinely feels like the ability to achieve productive results with
clients does not reside in me, it resides in those relationships.  This
may be commonly said in the counseling field, but I'm a massage
therapist.  Most massage therapists I know either Know How To Do It, or
are working on getting there.  To observe that the ability to achieve
productive results with clients resides in the relationship, not in
myself, is very, very strange.

About 10% of the clients I've worked with, I brought my same self to the
session, responded to what I heard, and proceeded to do work that, while
it may have felt nice to the person, was not productive at all -- in
their perceptions nor mine.  In each case there was something blah or
non-starting about the therapeutic relationship.  If I'd had KHTDI to
fall back on, I might well have achieved good results with these people
anyway.  But I don't want it now; I'd rather get better at developing a
therapeutic relationship with the very people it's more difficult with.

I realized that not-knowing would be my path (but not how different it
was) very early in my training, when I would occasionally achieve
outstanding results, well beyond my skill level, with clients who were
able to talk with me about what we were doing while they were on the
table.  Between the the two of us, we would home in on what was the
right thing to do in that moment.  Very evidently I couldn't have done
it without their participation.  But I was essential too -- they said
they hadn't gotten such results with other MT's.

Later in my training I observed an amazing pattern in the student
therapy center (at which most clients are non-talkative on the table).
In exit interviews, people were expressing particular appreciation for
the fact that I spent the session working on the areas they said needed
working on. (!) The specific things they'd asked me to do, by gum,
I'd done.  I received this appreciation much more often than I could
account for.

I eventually realized that this is just not the standard in the massage
therapy field.  Apparently most massage therapists either stick to their
routine or rely on evaluation methods to determine where to work, and
only somewhat incorporate addressing the client's specific requests, or
even listening to them. 

So, I feel like I'm a different species from the others in my niche.
And while I don't know how to do what I do, I have a slowly growing
awareness that I am very good at it indeed.

Copyright 2000, Matt Ryan. Back to Matt Ryan's homepage