I mentioned in my previous blog that I tried to make the therapy sessions between Eric, the doctoral counseling psychology student, and Greg, his teenage client, authentic as possible. However, while I think the portrayal is authentic, I wasn’t necessarily factual as I had to edit some of the more mundane components of therapy for dramatic purposes. In addition, Greg comes off as more verbal and insightful than the average adolescent male, who tends to respond with monosyllabic utterances in these situations until feeling comfortable.
A critical skill all therapists need to display is empathy - which helps establish a therapeutic alliance and helps the client explore his/her problems. Part of being empathic involves being genuine and non-judgmental, which means accepting what the client says and not making critical evaluations of the person. Therefore, in Dead Works, when Greg talks about seeing ghosts, Eric listens and reacts as if he was talking about everyday adolescent concerns like problems in school or conflicts with siblings. He works hard at not judging or ridiculing his client.
Since Dead Works is ostensibly a ghost story, much of the plot takes this “problem” and runs with it. It reality, Eric would have explored other issues or factors that might be playing a role in Greg’s life. With a little digging, Eric and Greg may begin to see the ghost issue as a byproduct of something else like trauma or abuse. The hauntings could actually “fall away” or become unimportant as other issues are addressed. In the case of Dead Works, though, I kept the ghosts front and center in the therapy process and had a blast doing it. For instance, I was able to weave in features of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as Eric helped Greg consider alternative explanations for the hauntings. Eric also considers Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as a possible intervention for Greg. Finally, Eric’s discussion of Greg in his practicum class also demonstrates how student therapists can explore difficult cases in a supportive atmosphere
Ghosts have not been a frequent occurrence in therapy sessions in my professional experience. My love of horror has not been fed by professional circumstances. That comes from my own twisted enjoyment of things spooky. The heartbreaking, disturbing, and sad experiences related by kids with whom I’ve worked (or discussed by my practicum students in class) are all decidedly human and earthbound. Trauma, abuse, poverty, dysfunctional families, illness, stress, anxiety, anger, depression… the list goes on and on – these are the topics of therapy.