In all types of relationship, fit is often a matter of “good enough.” There are no perfect relationships just as there are no perfect human beings. No one relationship provides all of what someone needs. A key to accepting relationships and maintaining them long-term is for each person to understand what “good enough” means and then to strive for it. " - Michael Korson
A Different Understanding of Fit:
Or How Psychotherapy is Different from a Pair of Shoes
By Michael Korson, MFT
People come to psychotherapy
looking for a good fit between themselves and the therapist. I often suggest that a client meet with me
for a few sessions so that we can get a sense of the fit. In a few sessions we get a sense of fit, but in the ongoing work we
establish the fit between us.
In our modern, fast world our
understanding of “fit” is of something that also happens quickly. We think of fit as something
instantaneous. We try on a shoe and it
fits or not. We shop for a new shirt and,
of course, we don’t take one home which is two sizes too big. Something fits or it doesn’t. I suppose “fit” in the sense of being in
shape is something that usually takes some time. Though there are plenty of gadgets and diets
marketed on late night and cable TV purportedly to make one fit in a hurry.
This idea of fit as something
that happens quickly has infiltrated the world of relationships. There is Speed Dating – where within a matter
of minutes a person evaluates the possibility of a fit for a lifetime. Online dating has become a mainstay for the
way that people now meet. While it
greatly helps those dating and provides a good alternative way to meet others
also looking to meet, still it inherently involves a process of sizing up the fit
in the speed of a click of the mouse.
Fit is an important element
of all relationships. By it I suppose we
mean that there is some compatibility, a way of relating comfortably. There is a certain feel and that feels right.
There are, however, other ways of understanding fit as something other than
quick. Sometimes it is something that takes time. I am particularly heartened by those stories
of couples who recall, many years later, their first thoughts about the other
which were anything but positive. I love
hearing when a woman says of her partner, “I couldn’t stand him when we first
Fit, as I understand it in
the context of psychotherapy, is not something that happens instantaneously,
but requires some time and attention. It
is not so much about similar interests or common likes between client and
therapist. It is not about similar experiences.
Of course, it has something to do with how well-understood the client
feels. And most fundamentally, it is about the way that the two can come to
understand and articulate the client’s needs.
Fit in this context is a living process that two people engage in – a process
central to the work of psychotherapy and, I believe, to all human
relationships, particularly intimate ones.
In psychotherapy, one doesn’t
so much discover a fit as the two people work to create it. Central to this
process is discovering what are the client’s needs in the relationship and then
encouraging the expression of those needs.
This is particularly important for all clients, but especially those who
come into therapy with a history of negating their needs, both the expression
of them and even the realization of their existence. Often if a person has in
some fundamental ways not had needs met, that person will disavow any need connected
to another human being. It is crucial,
particularly in the early stages of treatment but throughout the work as well,
that the client identify and express those needs as they relate to the therapy
and to the therapist. Perhaps the client
needs more involvement from the therapist; or perhaps less. Perhaps the client needs to know the
therapist’s opinions or how she feels about the client.
The other essential part of this
process is for the therapist to discover to what degree he or she can meet those
needs. It is my belief that psychotherapy
is a process by which both people change -- both
people, including the therapist. In any
successful therapeutic treatment, client and therapist undergo some
transformation so that they are not quite who they were at the start of the
process. In this way, the psychotherapeutic relationship mirrors the process
for any intimate relationship: two people change and influence each other. Regarding change, psychotherapy addresses
fundamental and complicated questions: How can one change while remaining
essential oneself and not contorting into something one is not? And what
defines a “good” relationship, something real, though inevitably failing to
reach the heights of fantasy?
In all types of relationship,
fit is often a matter of “good enough.”
There are no perfect relationships just as there are no perfect human
beings. No one relationship provides all
of what someone needs. A key to
accepting relationships and maintaining them long-term is for each person to understand
what “good enough” means and then to strive for it. Perhaps that statement may sound somewhat
controversial or pessimistic. After all,
Hollywood and other image-making enterprises suggest that the ideal can be
reached. Aren’t we encouraged to think
that anything less is unacceptable? A
key ingredient in any successful relationship is the acceptance of limitations,
the other’s and one’s own. From that
vantage point, “good enough” can be quite good.
It takes a long time to get
to know someone, to be able to see that person free of our own projections (our
hopes, wishes, fears and how they color perception) and the influence of the
past (how that person reminds us of someone from the past and how our
experiences from the past, particularly those of disappointment or rejection, influence
the way we experience the present). While there is certainly much to say about
trusting one’s intuition, an important part of the total person, relying on
that part of the human psyche can be confusing.
First impressions may be glimpses of some deeper truth about someone, or
they may be products of one’s fears, anxieties, and associations to the past.
Fit is a process that takes
time. In the psychotherapist’s office,
it takes an active dialogue. Psychotherapy
provides a valuable opportunity to engage in this process not only to establish
the fit between client and therapist, but to practice and develop relational
muscles for all of one’s most important relationships. To come to understand what is good enough; to
have an experience of articulating to someone what one’s needs are and having
that person generally interested in understanding and meeting them…those are
some of the experiences that psychotherapy provides. I suppose I could summarize by saying that
fit in this sense is something that involves trying on, adjusting, and wearing
for a while… eventually walking with more comfort and a spring in your step through
your life and the world.
Michael Korson, MFT, CGP has a private practice in San Francisco and Berkeley, California. Michael works with individual adults and adolescents, couples and families. He is a certified group psychotherapist by the American Group Psychotherapy Association. Michael provides supervision to interns at local counseling centers and has a private practice intern under his supervision. For many years he was the chair of the Intern Support Committee for SFCAMFT. He is a first-year candidate at the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California. More information on Michael can be found at his website www.michaelkorson.com.
Labels: Michael Korson, Psychotherapy, therapist fit