Almost everytime, a patient enters into the clinic, the psychologist is presented with the question “How sooner will you solve my problem, how sooner will you relive me of my suffering”? Sometimes this question is asked directly and at other times in non-verbal expressions. There are other questions such as: Will I be judged? Will you keep it confidential?…etc. It takes a long time to them for finding a satisfactory answer which correctly reflects their own approach as a clinician. This is when the mirror metaphor brought in a lot of clarity.
What does a mirror do? It gives you an accurate reflection of your image. There are no changes in that reflection. The angle from which you want to look at yourself is also decided by you. Do you want to see yourself straight up or from sideways? Everything is decided by you. You are the protagonist of your life. A mirror does not have any role of its own. It does not have any special property. The only requirement of a good mirror is that it should be clean. If it is not clean, the image reflected would be blurred. A physical mirror reflects the body image of a person whereas the mirror which is represented by a Psychologist is a mirror where the patients can attempt to look at their innermost thoughts, feelings and understand them in a constructive way. The intensity and nature of their problem or illness will decide how smooth or difficult the process would be.
It is not possible for friends or family members to become that mirror. Because of the closeness they share, it is difficult for them to listen without judging or being biased. In India, family and relatives play a very important and influential role in each aspect of our life. Sometimes this proximity can be a deterrent in the treatment of patients with mental health issues. Even society does not act as an accurate mirror as it is also based on a set of preconceived notions and belief systems which are many times contradicting.
The challenge for a Psychologist is to provide a mirror which is as clear as possible.
Let us look at the factors which can help us in creating a therapeutic experience which is most beneficial for the patient keeping in mind the metaphor of a mirror.
It is essential for Psychology professionals to keep aside their own biases towards issues which are relevant to the patient but might not be in agreement with their way of life. In order to do that, it is important for them to reflect on their own experience as a therapist. Supervision plays a very important role over here. Regular supervision with a senior helps in becoming aware of those issues which might get triggered during the sessions with the patient. In India, this is a very new trend which has hardly picked up but in the West, it forms an essential aspect in the growth of a therapist. In India, one can get licensed to become a Psychologist only after a Masters and MPhil degree, during which the focus is largely on learning how to apply a particular technique to a particular disorder. But there is no requirement of supervision after one completes the degree. Those who work in the capacity of their own clinics especially find it difficult to reflect on their own work. Reading about the latest research in the field and peer discussions help to some extent. Reading the work of founders in the field who have been responsible for providing the right direction to the field of Psychology such as Freud, Carl Rogers, Viktor Frankl etc. can be beneficial for those who need guidance as a psychologist.
It is also observed that a vast majority of Psychologists today are still engaged in Psychological testing as a major portion of their work. There is a need to create opportunities for them to do more and more therapeutic work.
Sometimes the patient’s own fears make it difficult for them to open up. In India, the culture of sharing is not very popular. First of all, it takes a lot of courage for someone to even decide that they need help and talk to a stranger about their issues. Any emotional challenge is usually handled by an elder in the family and going out to someone because we are feeling depressed or anxious is considered a sign of the weak-willed. This is where Psychologists need to develop a mutual and unassuming relationship with the patient. In fact, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that the success or failure of a therapeutic experience hinges on whether the patient feels accepted for what he or she is and is not judged.
Also, there are times when being a mirror does not help. For example, when the illness borders on a psychotic range. But even in such cases, once the patient achieves stability through regular psychiatric treatment, the opportunity to develop insight is very much possible through a successful therapeutic relationship.
To conclude, it is important for Psychology professionals to work on their own growth as human beings as Psychology is a field which requires a lot of technical expertise but is grounded in humanistic work. No matter how technically perfect a Psychologist is, the patient would always connect to the humanity within them.