I told a close friend that sometimes I spend the day comforting people and then telling them to lick the electrical socket, and then comforting them, and then inviting them to lick the outlet again. There is a distinct madness to therapy.
I want to describe therapy as having two polarities: Seeking comfort, and discovering pain. People come into therapy because they are in pain or because the things they use to soothe pain stop working and/or create even more pain. So, the therapist is often in a position to give comfort and to nurture the patient through the pain (via grounded/informed/genuine empathy). But then we direct the patient to relentlessly uncover repressed or hidden pain so that it can be worked-through. Entire sessions can be built on the comfort of the conversation and the relationship to the therapist, while other sessions can be a horrible threshing into pain and frustration and injury to the psyche that were previously unknown to you. Usually both are happening at the same time.
Therapy is a confusing process. To seek comfort and awaken to pain all at the same time is no small undertaking. The therapist’s instincts, style, and own ability to tolerate and make sense of psychological and emotional pain comes into play (this is where theory helps). The role of the therapist involves nurturing in a grounded, real and appropriate way, while uncovering repressed pain. That is the tightrope. That’s the dance.