• Gemma McCabe

My Mistake...

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing

and right-doing

there is a field.

I'll meet you there."


~Rumi








If I wrote a piece about all the mistakes I have made as a therapist, I would be here for way too long. I like to think I reflect upon my mistakes, as much as I should, if not more. I value that kind of thing. Making sure I didn't miss something, something I did or didn't do, that caused a rupture in the relationship. In college, we are well trained in spotting this. Most times clients won't tell their therapist, that the therapist has messed up. I think most therapist's would have to agree that we miss what we do wrong. So swept up in the flow of a well worn pathway between a familiar client and the dynamic that is well set up. Then all of a sudden, damage has been done. Rarely seen, just felt. We feel the mistake. We feel the hurt or anger. We are taught as Therapist's to immediately deal with this and fix it immediately. What did I do wrong? I can see I let you down, what did I do? And whenever this has occurred, whenever we mess up, and immediately take responsibility for it, it can usually be repaired. As long as the Therapist takes 100% responsibility. Even if she doesn't know what it is yet. The assumption is, you are my responsibility in this room, and it is my problem if you feel hurt. I actually love this kind of thing. Given the opportunity to apologise and fix. A powerful situation to show care and health and even love. To a person, in front of you, so deserving. This is a well known phenomenon for us therapists. We, I, are used to messing up. And in the room, we try to be on the watch for the shift. Then we get to swoop in.


But what if we miss it? Clients are always so respectful and protective of their therapists I find. That, in that special relationship, even if the therapist messes up big, they won't want to hurt. The rupture remains. No opportunity to swoop.


In knowing myself, and my close colleagues, I have matured just enough to know that the black and white thinking of right and wrong is, incredibly restrictive. And it is impossible to avoid messing up. Mistakes I have noticed in myself and them, as therapists, can be categorised into two. Caring too much, so boundaries get stretched. Wrongly. Or mindlessness. Caught up in 'knowing'. In my own opinion, the caring too much gets us into way too much trouble. Easier to forgive maybe, but the energy can be way too much. Whereas the mindlessness, causes less trouble, but way more annoying. Harder to forgive perhaps. Maybe this is black and white thinking. What a mess it is, to try so hard to get something so right, and find that that causes the most trouble. It seems, doing the right thing, within the walls of right and wrong, is limited. Necessary. Crucial. But I have discovered, limited in its capacity to truly take care of people.


I guess this is the mess of relationship. Something that ever fascinates me. A complex system of knots and ties, sometimes straightened out, and sometimes all tangled up. What's the answer? Truth. Talking. Dealing with it. Taking responsibility for. Therapists will always welcome this. No matter what. When we sign up to take care of a client, we sign up for the whole thing. Even changing ourselves as a result of meeting you. To be affected, and to reflect on everything the work has brought. How else can the work be truly transformative?


So yes, therapists mess up. Big time. But the opportunity is always there, to repair.

To swoop in. To apologise. What's more important than this?

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