Recently, I commented at a training that Brené Brown talks about vulnerability in a non-vulnerable way. Sorry Brené fans, but please pause for a moment and consider this. There is no judgment here, just an observation. I am not stating this as a correct or incorrect stance, and actually, it would be correct as far as the forum she is speaking. The question of how to present on vulnerability in a TEDTalk or workshop requires a certain degree of distance to the experience in order to present.
A few supervisees have asked me to elaborate on what I mean by this, and the applicability for our work as therapists.
Consider transparency and vulnerability, and what comes up? Well, they are similar, but definitely not the same. Here are the definitions from Webster's Dictionary:
Transparency - the quality that makes it possible to see through something; the quality that makes something obvious or easy to understand
Vulnerability - easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally; open to attack, harm, or damage (don't you just love this definition?)
These aren't the most applicable definitions for our purposes, so please consider my very basic versions of these concepts:
Transparency: Speaking candidly about what you think, how you feel, what you do.
Vulnerability: Openness to experiencing the full breadth of a thought, feeling, behavior, etc .
As I reflect on my statement about Brené, what I mean is that she is being transparent about her process; she is discussing what she has researched, and how she has applied it to her life. She tells parts of her story very transparently, in order to demonstrate the concept of "vulnerability". And, when doing so, she is not experiencing the depth of the experience in that moment, she is in story mode. She is not accessing the full emotional experience as she tells the story (at least not any time I have witnessed her presenting online or at her training).
And this would be appropriate for the forum. As we teach, as we provide therapy, our task with disquisitions (telling stories) is not one of being fully vulnerable, it is one of normalizing, opening more awareness, providing more clarity and understanding (Webster's definition of transparency).
So, what does this mean to a therapist?
As I was learning to be a therapist, I was often criticized about being too open about my life with my clients. My clients knew I was married, knew I had children, knew I had my own struggles in life. My clients did not, however, know the full experience of my life, nor should they. It would not be in either of our best interests to share more than necessary. This is transparency.
However, what I have learned over time, is what I will call the dance of vulnerability... sometimes dancing with transparency, sometimes dancing with vulnerability. And as my client work has evolved and strengthened, I have actually grown to be more vulnerable with my clients, and supervisees, when appropriate. My preference is to simply be myself, with healthy boundaries as to the degree I demonstrate or role model in our work.
As an example, recently with a new case, I shared with the clients that I was a wrestling mom when my sons were in high school, and really appreciated the commitment, intensity and passion of the sport. I shared in an effort to build an alliance with the male (guess what sport he participated in). This helped him begin to trust me. This was transparency.
With another client, as she shared the depth of a wound from her younger years, her story aligned with parts of my own. While telling me about her pain, she hit her shame and humiliation, and fear of judgment by me. It began to shut her down. In that moment, I shared that I knew the pain she spoke of, because I had had a similar experience in my youth. As I said this to her, my heart felt a depth of sadness that she could see in my eyes. I recall my hand covering my heart, my voice going soft, my pace slowing down. This was vulnerability, for both her and me.
With the dance of vulnerability, I like to consider the striation of transparency and vulnerability, and the concept of slicing things thinner (in EFT, an intervention to make the risk smaller).
As I share transparently, I am doing so at a level of awareness, more cognitively. I am making statements, not necessarily in an experiential way. I am story telling. I may have emotional reactions to telling my story, some showing, some not. There is some risk in sharing my story, however, the depth of emotion in sharing is kept more minimal, with less risk.
As I share more vulnerably, I am bringing into the story-telling more of my emotional experience. I am sharing some of how I am feeling about the statement; I am accessing some level of the experience in my body at the moment I am speaking. Many therapists have seen me do this with role-play demonstrations at my workshops or training events. I am showing my reaction in the moment, which is vulnerable, however, I do not go deeply into the underlying aspects of my emotional needs.
And then there is this deeper level, where I lean into my experience, allow the full emotion to come alive, and bring that feeling forward. In my Self of Therapist workshop, participants have seen me at this level, when I share the story more fully, telling the history behind the experience, and experiencing the emotions alive in that moment when sharing (tell tale sign is my voice softening or catching, and tears in my eyes).
This is what I refer to as the dance of vulnerability, or striations of vulnerability.
And so, to connect more fully to our work - I see this as similar to how we walk our clients through the EFT process. Starting with the concepts, naming and sharing them, then deepening into the emotion of it and sharing that, then deepening even further into the depths of underlying emotion, shame and experience, and sharing that. It is the difference of talking "about" our experience, from talking "from" our experience.
With my example with this woman, I did not share the details of my story, but I shared its existence in a way that she could know what was in my heart in that moment with her. Yes, it was risky for me to even do this much, however, keeping my sharing limited kept it safer for both of us. To let her know I knew exactly what she went through in the way I did was an altering moment in our work, pushing her into a new dimension of trusting me, and feeling the shame begin to heal. The experience was incredibly moving, and liberating, for both her and me.
I am not suggesting you go out and tell your clients about your story and your pain. I am simply offering to consider how you are transparent with your clients, consider the levels of striation to vulnerability, and the potential for enhancing your own sense of self in your work, and therefore in your life.
As always, I welcome your reactions, thoughts, and experiences related to my sharing! ;)
Hi and welcome to my blog! I am excited to have this endeavor underway. It has been many years in the making.