January 23rd, 2019
How Therapy Heals: Non-Judgment
Research has repeatedly shown that the relationship between a therapist and client is one of the most influential factors determining the outcome of treatment. Quality relationships are important for maintaining mental health, physical health, and overall quality of life. A good relationship with a therapist differs in many ways from the relationships in your personal life; differences which are uniquely healing. One of the most important aspects of a good therapeutic relationship is that it strives to be non-judgmental.
To be non-judgmental as a therapist (sometimes referred to as having unconditional positive regard, or radical acceptance) does not mean that the therapist won’t have thoughts about whether certain patterns in your thoughts or behavior are in the best interest of yourself and/or others. It also doesn’t mean that the therapist won’t ever disagree with you, say no to a request, or feel frustrated in a difficult interaction. It does, however, mean that the therapist will not judge you as bad or shameful. In other words, what you bring to therapy, including those things about yourself that you and/or other people find difficult to accept, will be approached with curiosity, compassion, and the understanding that it all makes sense somehow, rather than with judgment.
Non-judgment from the therapist is crucial, because judgment prevents us from exploring and understanding elements of our personalities that may be getting us stuck in our lives and relationships. You can’t change something, if it needs to be changed, if you can’t even look at it for fear of being judged. The feeling that something makes us shameful or bad is powerful, because we need to know that we are safe with, belong to, and are loved by others. Shame is the feeling that we are not worthy of that love and belonging.
People often struggle with judging aspects of themselves as shameful, because they learned that aspects of themselves were not accepted by important others in their lives, in one way or another. Some people repeatedly end up in relationships with others who judge them harshly and often. An additional challenge comes, when one has also hurt others. A non-judgmental therapist makes room for all of who you are, so that what needs to heal can heal and what should not have been shut-down can be expressed freely again. It can take a long time, to stop judging the more challenging aspects of ourselves, but the encouragement, modeling, and just plain good feeling of being accepted fully by another person helps us to see that we can face whatever we need to face to live more fully and authentically.
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