What’s So Bad About Excellence?

I had another conversation with my professional mentor last week, and she said something about me and my good friend, K, as we finished the conversation:

… “it’s because you (both) over-function.”

Now, if you have been part of my training in psychotherapy, you would know that over-functioning is not a great thing. It’s not even a good thing. It implies that I regularly do more in my relationships than is necessary or even helpful. I felt the power of her comment today in a session with a couple in which I was working hard, being helpful, resourceful, and empathetic all at once. I was working, but I was working very hard.

But here’s the rub: what’s the difference between doing more than necessary and striving for excellence? Because that’s what I see myself doing. Pursuing professional and personal excellence. My clients count on me to bring a centered self into their time with me, a professional who has done her homework, reflected on their lives with them in session and on my own time, and who is prepared for their questions.

If I don’t bring my best efforts to my sessions, isn’t that the same as me under-performing? In the context of the primary models of family therapy, doing too much in the room doesn’t allow the space or energy for the client to lead their own therapy.  I want my clients to lead their own work. I just find, however, that that is only possible when I model what that means in the context of self reflection and critical thinking.

I know one thing for sure: I don’t want to be an under-functioner just to show how flexible I can be. Like most things in the therapy room, I will be looking for the sweet spot of the middle way, doing my best and then, helping my clients succeed, to get out of their way and walk beside them. 

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