Yesterday, I saw a new therapist. It is the first and last appointment I will ever have with this woman. I went into the session wanting to talk mostly about what the next steps for my career might be. She seemed to be more interested in questioning my choice to be in an open marriage. The way she handled the session violated the ethical standards of the profession — and I didn’t hesitate to tell her so! It resulted in a discussion that got, um, rather heated…
Most of my experiences with therapists and coaches have been positive. There definitely are people out here who are doing good work. However, conflict is a part of life, and you cannot avoid dealing with difficult people sometimes– in and out of the therapy room.
I recently posted an article on how to manage the highs and lows of dating. Part of successfully creating fulfilling relationships is knowing how to navigate rough waters.
If you are going to participate in the wonderful world of dating and relationships, you will have some profoundly pleasurable experiences — sexual and otherwise.
And, you will also get your heart broken. It sucks, but it’s part of how these things go. When this happens, you need to be able to practice emotional alchemy.
What is emotional alchemy?
Well, alchemy is the idea that you can transform one thing into another. Alchemy is both a scientific and a philosophical practice. Scientifically, it is the study of how to convert one substance into another, usually a less valuable material like lead into a more valuable material like gold.
But there is another, more hidden meaning that most people don’t know about.
Philosophically, it is the practice of transforming negative experiences into positive growth opportunities. By transforming emotional wounds into valuable lessons, it’s like we are turning the heavy ‘lead’ of our baggage into the ‘gold’ that is our own personal development.
Even though the session with this therapist went horribly, I still got everything I went there for!
That is the power of emotional alchemy…
There are many ways to practice emotional alchemy. Simply reflecting on a situation and asking yourself, “What can I learn from this?” is a powerful exercise by itself.
And, there are opportunities to go much deeper, and extract even more gold from every experience life has to offer, “leaden” and otherwise. Here are three of my favorite emotional alchemy techniques…
3 Powerful Emotional Alchemy Techniques
1. Pay Attention to Patterns
Sometimes, a chance encounter is just a chance encounter. Sometimes, someone else is having a bad day and you are caught in the crossfire of their crankiness, regardless of whether or not you actually did anything wrong.
However, when something shows up repeatedly in your life, it’s time to sit up and take notice.
Even though the way this therapist acted was an isolated incident among other therapists I’ve dealt with, it was eerily similar to interactions I have in other contexts, particularly with members of my own family.
So, I knew that there was something here for me to learn, something I was doing to recreate this situation over and over again.
This forced me to reflect on what I was bringing to the table with this therapist (and in the past). I realized that I had shown up to her office with an assumption that this person was probably going to judge me, and this made me act somewhat nervous and suspicious around her.
This probably made her feel uncomfortable, and while that probably didn’t make her act the way she did, it probably did contribute to how quickly the conflict escalated.
This realization has made me more aware of how I might show up to future sessions (with a different therapist, obviously).
When you examine the patterns in your life, what do you notice? What do you consistently do and say in those situations?
By making a change in your behavior, you will change the patterns in your life to more positive ones — like running the pattern of having a date every Friday night! 😉
2. Perception is Projection
Perception is projection is a fancy way of saying that when you point a finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at you. What we perceive in another person is often a projection of something that exists inside of our own psyche.
For example, if we say that someone has “anger issues,” we are projected our own issues with anger onto that person.
That doesn’t mean, by the way, that the other person doesn’t also have anger issues. They probably do, and you are likely making a correct observation about their behavior.
And, when the things we notice in other people trigger us emotionally, this is a sign that we have some of our own healing work to do.
What triggered me most about this therapist was her judgmental, close-minded nature. So, later that night, when I was reflecting on the situation, I asked myself, “how am I being judgmental? How am I being close-minded?”
I realized that, just as she had not been open to what I was saying, I had not been open to what she was saying. I happen to disagree with her point of view. However, I wrote her off immediately — and rudely– rather than remaining calm and open and listening to what she had to say.
I realized that, regardless of her unprofessional behavior, I don’t want to be the kind of person who gets in someone’s face like that. I believe that communication is more effective when practiced with kindness, and I failed to practice this principle in my interaction with her. But, with this new awareness, next time I am in a similar situation, I can be more mindful of what I say and how I say it.
By the way, I wrote an entire article about Perception is Projection — you can read it HERE.
3. Help Others Learn From Your Mistakes
The first two on this list are about doing your own healing work. This last one is about contributing to others, which often brings rewards back to you — materially as well as emotionally.
Some of the best ‘gold’ that I got from this experience is a hands on lesson about how not to treat my own clients — which is, of course, really a lesson on how to treat my clients even better!
Knowing that you can help prevent someone else from going through what you went through can make the whole thing seem worth it. From your greatest mistakes can come your greatest contributions to others.
Because I have years of coaching experience, plus 6 quarters completed of a Masters program in marriage and family therapy, I was very quickly able to recognize this woman’s unprofessional behavior for what it was.
But a less informed person might have been negatively influenced by such an encounter — and in fact, this happens all of the time. I know because I’ve coached countless men who’ve gotten burned by others in the pickup and personal development industries.
So, I’d like to take a moment here to mention a few things to keep in mind if you ever hire a coach or therapist (me or anyone else), make sure they…
- Stay focused on the goals that you want to achieve
- Are accepting of who you are, and do not impose their own personal values onto you or try to push you in a direction you do not wish to go in (this is unethical and, in many cases, is a form of discrimination)
- Are willing to listen to your feedback and course correct as needed
Just being able to share that with you — and the idea that it could prevent at least one person from getting sucked into an exploitative relationship with an unethical practitioner — makes my ordeal totally worth it!!!
Not to mention that my experience inspired this week’s article 😉
Actually, what I learned from this experience goes much, much deeper than what I shared here. The rest of it would be too long and complex to explain in this article.
But the gold that I have been able to reap from this experience makes it one of the BEST therapy sessions I’ve ever had!
Even though it’s one of the worst therapy session that I’ve ever had…
That’s how emotional alchemy works. 🙂