It was as bizarre and shocking and smart of a question as I’d ever heard. “Can you help this be more complicated?” the therapist asked. She was giving guidance to another therapist, a fellow workshop participant, about a client.
At the time I had never considered the idea that sometimes what is called for is creating room for complexity. The task of making something more complicated for clients seemed antithetical to why most people come to counseling in the first place. Clients come to therapy seeking safe guidance through the deepest, hardest, most private parts of their lives–and that’s usually complicated enough.
But as I’ve sat with this question over the last six years, my understanding of its value has grown. Because often clients come in wanting to transform a part of their life that’s grey or rainbow-colored into something black and white. Should I stay or go? Is he good or bad? Am I right or wrong?
We seek simple answers when we’re overwhelmed and anxious. Uncertainty and ambiguity can be terrible to tolerate.
But settling for false dichotomies (like good/bad and right/wrong) rarely help us answer big questions in meaningful, heart-felt ways. And so I’ve come to see the gifts of that question from years ago. Here is what I know for sure: It’s only when we acknowledge complexity that we can move through it. It’s only when we name the messiness and complications of life that we can begin to sort through it all to see what to keep, and what to release, and what’s beneath, and what’s within.