Individual Therapy: A Universal Therapeutic Skill, Part 2

In yesterday’s post, we looked at metaskills and this idea of fishing. In today’s post, we’ll look at fishing and metaskills in the context of individual therapy.


Fishing as a Therapeutic Skill

Therapy is a very broad term that has many meanings to many people. According to Mindell (1995), “The practice of psychotherapy, unlike religion or science, is the combination of the techniques and metaskills unique to each practitioner or therapeutic skill” (p. 41). Given this definition of therapy, it is fair to say that therapists use metaskills in therapy. In particular, therapists use the metaskill of fishing in therapy. As stated by Bugental (1987), “The most mature psychotherapists are more artists than technicians and they bring to bear a wide variety of sensitivities and skills so their clients can release their latent potentials for further living” (p. 264). Though fishing is a metaskill that a therapist can use, it is important that fishing not be performed merely as a technique. For effective therapy, the therapist must use the metaskill of fishing as an artist would use their skill of painting on a canvas. The therapist must wait with unhurried attention for a fish to come along and then switch to precise awareness in order to follow the fish. The artist does not attack the canvas, but instead, gently waits with unhurried attention for the art to flow through them. Then, they switch their focus to a more precise awareness as they paint the images that are coming to them.

It is important to note that even though the therapist takes on the role of the therapist and the client takes on the role of the client, neither is devoid of their human qualities. Meaning, underneath the roles they are playing (therapist and client) they are still human. Carere-Comes (2007) wrote “In a sense, every human relationship, however technical and impersonal, is also inevitably more or less interpersonal, since a person never manages to completely hide behind their technical role” (p. 95). The therapist can attempt to put on the image of being all knowing and important, but the therapist that knows the least, does the best. “If you are too intelligent, you are not helpful. If you are too smart, you try to make something happen instead of following nature. You have an inflation that you are the creator of life and not the assistant” (Mindell, 1995, p. 114). The metaskill of fishing is important in individual therapy because it allows the therapist to go with the flow of the session and not force change into the client. The therapist waits patiently for the client to reveal a fish, and then the therapist uses the feedback from the client to determine if there really is a fish. In the following sections, there will be examples of how fishing is used in individual therapy, couples’ therapy, and group therapy. The first form of therapy to be explained in more detail is individual therapy.

Individual therapy. According to Aposhyan (2004), “[There are] three general tasks of psychotherapy: 1. healing developmental deficiencies, 2. resolving trauma, [and] 3. supporting further development” (p. 65). Fishing is an important skill to have for achieving these general tasks of therapy. An example of a developmental deficiency is a client not being able to form social bonds very well. The client may present with a seemingly unrelated issue such as being bored at work, but a fish might reveal itself during the session. It is the job of the therapist to notice this fish and follow it, so the two of them together, can explore the developmental deficiency. Fishing can also be useful in resolving trauma.

If a client had been sexually abused as a child, they might not present with this issue, but this issue might arise from therapy. For example, a client could be talking about playing at the park with their friends and then they suddenly become agitated. The therapist could interpret this agitation as a fish, and follow the agitation by probing it with more questions. The client would then provide feedback to these questions indicating to the therapist that there is a fish. The therapist could then follow the fish and from this fish, the therapist might end up discussing how the child had once been kidnapped at the playground by their uncle and taken to his house. At the uncle’s house, the uncle proceeded to sexually abuse the child. This information about the sexual abuse would not have arisen had the therapist not followed the fish in the form of the agitation. Not only is fishing useful in developmental deficiencies and resolving trauma, but it is also helpful in furthering the development of clients.

It is important for the therapist to support further development within their clients. A fish may present itself in the form of an edge for the client. An edge is a place where a client is at the limit of their comfortableness. If the client were to push their edge, they would be attempting to extend their ability to feel comfortable beyond where they initially felt comfortable. In short, when someone pushes their edge, they are seeking to grow. An example of a therapist supporting further development within a client could be assisting the client to push their edge. The client might be talking about something that took place in their business meeting that morning. The client might say that they had an idea that might have contributed to the advancement of the discussion, but chose not to voice their opinion. The therapist might notice the client shift in their seat, as they mention not voicing their opinion. The client shifting in their seat could be a fish. The therapist tests to see if the shifting within the seat is a fish and discovers that it is. The therapist and client then discuss the possibility of the client speaking up in meetings to further the development within the client. There have been examples of how the three general tasks of psychotherapy relate to fishing. If the client and the therapist worked specifically with one of these tasks of psychotherapy and achieved the task, the client and the therapist would deem the therapy successful. It is important for the client and the therapist to feel like therapy is a success.

According to Oei and Green (2008), “Individuals typically undertake therapy on the assumption of it being a valid endeavor; therefore, the patient’s level of satisfaction with his or her therapeutic experience is fundamental” (p. 435). Because of this, it is imperative that the therapist and the client work together in an efficient manner to achieve the desired outcome – successful therapy. In order to facilitate an expedient process, it is most appropriate for the therapist to use the metaskill of fishing because fishing allows the therapist to get right to the heart of the issue. There have been multiple examples of how fishing is used during individual therapy. The next section will discuss some examples of how fishing can be used in couples’ therapy.


Check back tomorrow for the second half of this section where we look at fishing in the context of couples’ therapy and group therapy.

Published by Jeremiah Stanghini

Jeremiah's primary aim is to provide readers with a new perspective. In the same vein as the "Blind Men and the Elephant," it can be difficult to know when one is looking at the big picture or if one is simply looking at a 'tusk' or a 'leg.' He writes on a variety of topics: psychology, business, science, entertainment, politics, history, etc.

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