Genuine encounters: What do young people need?

Genuine encounters: What do young people need?

27 September 2022 70 views

A qualitative study

by Eva Beijer


Genuine encounters, have we taken them for granted? I had never thought about that until I was faced with social measures that included lockdowns, social distancing and sometimes having to fully isolate myself from the people close to me.

The pandemic with its lockdowns and associated social isolation have had a negative impact on the mental well-being of people around the world, especially young people (18-24 yrs) (Clair et. al., 2021). Therapists had to work remotely and not having a physical therapy space felt like a drawback. and therapists missed having more direct contact and connect with their clients (Haeyen, 2020).

During the periods of lockdown people all over the world couldn’t meet each other in person. I felt that the lack of real meaningful encounters with people had a negative impact on my mental health and this made the importance of sincerity and authenticity in conversations very clear to me. In a therapeutic process, too, creating a safe environment and a genuine encounter feel like essential elements. This sparked my interest in how genuine encounters come to be, what they feel like, and what people need in meaningful and real-life encounters.

In this article, I highlight and explore the question of what young people need in a therapeutic encounter, to express and reflect on their experiences, but it also has a broader aim for me as a beginning therapist. In researching this question, I’ve been inspired by the phenomenological way of observing and doing research used by the Youth Section of the Goetheanum in Dornach. I did some preliminary reading to deepen my understanding of the subject. And to further understand different points of view on therapeutic encounters I conducted a focus group with a small group of creative therapists consisting of three experienced therapists and one young therapist to also shed a light on a young therapist’s view.

Before I tell you more about all the findings from my research, here is a brief definition of “genuine”. It encapsulates everything that comes after in a couple of sentences. Gadamer (1989) writes in his book Truth and Method
that when you speak of a genuine encounter you are speaking of a way of being with another person. The word genuine comes from ingenuus in Latin, and means things like native, authentic, real, true, etc. So, there is a quality of sincerity and authenticity already in a genuine conversation. A fundamental openness that results in a genuine conversation. This allows more to emerge through the conversation, and we cannot predict what it will be (Binding & Tapp, 2008).

Online versus real-life encounters


Therapists have been very hesitant about the use of videotherapy in the past. They expected that therapy outcomes would suffer. Nevertheless, research shows that videotherapy can be a powerful gateway leading to greater opportunities for self-expression, connection, and intimacy for clients (Simpson et. al., 2020). There’s growing evidence that younger generations, who have grown up with technology being an integral part of their daily life, are increasingly asking for services that reflect their needs and how they experience the world (Simpson et. al., 2021). Helping and training therapists. A survey among creative therapists found that there are several benefits to working online. It gives the therapist the opportunity to see the client in the comfort of their own home and there’s no traveling time resulting in a lower boundary to participating in therapy. The fact that the client is already at home also makes it easier to transfer from therapy to the home situation. Clients can also more easily set their pace throughout the session and non-verbal communication becomes easier to discuss. However, having human contact and connection is missed (Haeyen et al., 2020). A study on online therapeutic presence states that because it’s harder for therapists to communicate their presence online it is an essential part of training for therapists to learn so. Facial expressions, gestures, etc. can still be expressed but more understanding on how technological issues (freezing, glitches, screen pixilation) and misunderstandings can negatively impact the therapist’s presence. Training in the logistics, form of therapy, equipment as well as therapeutic presence could be helpful (Geller, 2021).

Music therapists have adapted their techniques to working via a screen in various ways. And as a short-term measure, working online is a good option. The benefits outweighed the challenges, but the benefits were all directly linked to the context of the pandemic (Kantorová et. al., 2021). Online therapy is ultimately seen as complementary to face-to-face work. Working face-to-face is preferred, but therapists do see possibilities, advantages, and benefits in working online (Haeyen et. al., 2020).

In the focus group the preference for real-life encounters was quite clear. People spoke about how social media creates unrealistic expectations and puts pressure on young people for how they should be. In the context of the pandemic, they felt that the social measures that were taken here in the Netherlands somewhat forced people to be by themselves and sit with their thoughts and feelings. But people don’t always like what they find there and seem to use social media as a distraction. Here, you only see those perfect pictures and a constant stream of content is coming your way.

A study about the feeling of belonging and loneliness online, found that it depends on a person's personality traits (intro-/extravert, anxiety, self-confidence, etc.) whether feelings of loneliness are exacerbated or not. Connecting in a positive way through social media improves one's well-being and can create a sense of belonging. On the other hand, negative interactions and isolation on social media can harm one's sense of belonging and diminish one's well-being (Smith et. al., 2021).

The same applies to online therapy. Some people will prefer the safety of their own home (room) to talk about what's on their mind. Their independence increases and clients have more responsibility for their own process (Haeyen, 2020). And others will only dare to put their vulnerabilities and worries on the table when they meet someone in real life. It is up to the therapist to connect with the client's authenticity, whether working online or in real-life. In doing so, the therapist acts from creativity and his inner source, guided by trust (Schmid, 2001).

Openness and authenticity


The therapists in de focus group mentioned that openness and authenticity are essential elements for a genuine encounter. An open-minded approach by the therapist who is curious and genuinely interested in who the client is as a person. Also, showing that making mistakes is part of the process and that it is human to make mistakes. With that bit of transparency and authenticity from sharing your own experience, you make an authoritative and vertical relationship horizontal equal, and authentic.

They also talked about how when you as the therapist are open and authentic about how you feel at that moment.

“For example, something happened, and you feel very chaotic. You say it, it’s relieving and then you can sort of start over together with your client. And really start the session together.”

Annemarie ‘22

A study about the perspective of clients in a therapeutic relationship found that clients appreciated having an egalitarian relationship between therapist and client, where both parties are viewed as equals. Clients felt that the relationship with their therapist was enhanced when the therapist shared something meaningful with them (Noyce & Simpson, 2018).

Binding & Tapp (2008) describe that in a sincere conversation, your attention should remain completely on the topic; instead of constantly looking for someone's intention behind what they say. Both parties are open to all possibilities that are inherent to having different perspectives. The power of a conversation lies in this sincerity. In the focus group they also spoke about this and how wonder and surprise can arise, and the conversation can lead to a topic you hadn’t foreseen coming up. It has an element of self-revelation. For open listening it is important to not let it become a routine. You need to be ready for the unexpected, the dissonances, and not try to foresee the unexpected before it occurs (Schmid, 2001).

Noyce & Simpson (2018) found that clients who felt listened to and understood reported felt that that enhanced the therapeutic relationship. And clients who didn’t feel heard interpreted it as a lack of respect and found it to be damaging to the therapeutic relationship. Clients also spoke about that in order to form a trusting relationship they themselves needed to be open as well. They needed to not only be willing to speak about sensitive topics but also be open to receive suggestions and advise about how to cope with their difficulties (Noyce & Simpson, 2018).

Empathy in encounters


In the focus group it was mentioned that the therapist connects with the client in a gentle manner. Where the client can feel welcome as the whole person they are, with all that lives within them. Therapist and client can start a journey together, gently exploring. Schmid (2001) talks about accompanying someone on a journey with an uncertain destination and expecting the unexpected is what it means to be empathetic. It also isn’t a fixed state. It’s always a process and a way of being with someone (Rogers, 1975a p. 4; Schmid, 1994, p.271).

A wonderful example of this in a therapeutic process was told as follows.

"As a music therapist, I was asked to work with a young woman (30 years old) on a process of mourning and loss. Together we explored which emotions and feelings came up with certain songs in the context of her mourning. Mrs. spoke about very fond memories, joy, anger, and the feeling that it was unfair. For each feeling, she chose a song and we listened to it together. I could fully sympathise with her while listening. The space was completely there for her.
When I went home and put the songs on a CD, I found out that I really disliked the music! In this way, I noticed that during the therapeutic encounter I could fully be with the client, give her space and feel what the songs meant to her while listening to the music. I found it a truly magical experience."

Esther Vis ‘22


The focus group talked about the online therapy that had
to be done during the pandemic lockdowns had to be done very intentionally because it took a lot of energy. If the internet connection is bad, it’s hard to make out the clients’ body language. Someone mentioned that she would like to "sense" what it is like on the other side of the screen: "The fact that you cannot see the whole body of the person you are talking to is difficult and makes you wonder what is happening outside the frame of the screen". In the study by Haeyen et. al. (2021), therapists indicated that therapy online took more energy.

The idea arose that a genuine encounter is brought about from the ether body. That energy starts to flow, and it can then form a foundation in which therapeutic work can be done. When the etheric body's life energy is able to flow well, the astral body with all its impulses and emotions can easily join. Schmid (2001) talks about a similar rhythmic flow when he talks about the therapeutic relationship. It consists of an oscillating movement between acknowledging and empathically being with one another. This interaction could be compared to that of a dancing couple. The client leads, and the therapist follows; the flowing and spontaneous back-and-forth movement develops its own rhythm. (Raskin & Rogers, 1989 as referred to in Schmid, 2001).

From my own experience with online therapy, I can say that it takes more energy for me to establish a good energetic connection and for both parties to pay attention to the session. Alongside doing this research, I noticed as a young therapist that having full attention for someone is an essential part of not only a therapeutic encounter but genuine encounters in general.

For me, this is exactly what a therapeutic relationship is about. As a young therapist, as well as as a researcher, I think that from this openness and sincerity the space for a conversation forms, in which someone dares to discuss and reflect on their experiences freely. No matter if you’re talking online or in real life. I feel that we as humans should be able to find a balance between those two kinds. But that might lay far ahead in the future.

Thank you, kind reader.

Eva Beijer ‘22



References

Binding, L. L., & Tapp, D. M. (2008). Human understanding in dialogue: Gadamer's recovery of the genuine. Nursing Philosophy, 9(2), 121-130

Clair, R., Gordon, M., Kroon, M., & Reilly, C. (2021). The effects of social isolation on well-being and life satisfaction during pandemic. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 8 (1), 1-6.

Geller, S. (2021). Cultivating online therapeutic presence: strengthening therapeutic relationships in teletherapy sessions. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 34(3-4), 687-703.

Haeyen, S. W. (2020). Vaktherapie online; het perspectief van vaktherapeuten. Resultaten van de enquête over online vaktherapie.

Kantorová, L., Kantor, J., Hořejší, B., Gilboa, A., Svobodová, Z., Lipský, M., ... & Klugar, M. (2021). Adaptation of music therapists’ practice to the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic—going virtual: a scoping review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(10), 5138.

Noyce, R., & Simpson, J. (2018). The experience of forming a therapeutic relationship from the client’s perspective: A metasynthesis. Psychotherapy Research, 28(2), 281-296.

Smith, D., Leonis, T., & Anandavalli, S. (2021). Belonging and loneliness in cyberspace: impacts of social media on adolescents’ well-being. Australian Journal of Psychology, 73(1), 12-23.

Schmid, P. F. (2001). Comprehension: the art of not-knowing. Dialogical and ethical perspectives on empathy as dialogue in personal and person-centred relationships. Empathy, 53-71.

Simpson, S., Richardson, L., Pietrabissa, G., Castelnuovo, G., & Reid, C. (2021). Videotherapy and therapeutic alliance in the age of COVID‐19. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 28 (2), 409-421.