Therapy is Just a Business Transaction…Isn’t It?

‘You’re only here because it’s your job and you get paid…’  

The first time that I heard this from a client it took me by surprise. It was an adolescent client expressing anger for the first time in therapy. I was not sure what I had done to deserve this comment, but (maybe) it was a way of pushing me away in case, I too abandoned him. It certainly got me thinking (therapists do that a lot).  

‘…but this is just a business transaction, isn’t it?’ 

Ouch! This was an adult client expressing discomfort at having to speak to someone external because they were – in their view unable to sort out their own life. I felt as though there was more to it than that – I needed to speak to my supervisor (therapists do that a lot too).  

Everyone needs to make a living and in modern society this involves making money through a job or running a business, where a service/products/skills are exchanged for currency. In that sense, yes therapy is a business transaction. We provide a valuable, often life-changing service in exchange for money.  

Looking a little deeper however, therapy is not a simple transaction. It is a strange, unnatural, spiritual exchange. It is an incredibly personal and intimate relationship, developed weekly in a professional context, within set boundaries in an office environment.    

The late Tich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk said, “Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart.” 

Good therapists are naturally compassionate and empathic. They listen with mind, body and soul. The work isn’t just what happens in sessions. The therapist may not tell you that they have listened to a particular song that you mentioned or watched a movie because you related so much to the lead character. They may never reveal the deep sadness that they felt on hearing about a traumatic event that you experienced. They hold you in mind and heart. They secretly cheer for you. They hold your pain and difficulty so that you can have a rest. They choose to work with you, genuinely care about you, and work hard to understand you and your world in order to facilitate change.  

There is no other relationship like that of therapist and client, which when it works, can be magical.  

So yes, I am with you because it is my job and I get paid. Is it just a business transaction? Certainly not for me.