Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Validation Therapy

One thing that happens to me a lot is that people ask if I'm a psychologist or counselor. Technically, no; I've only taken a few classes in that sort of thing. What they're picking up on is that I'm a student of human nature, I like digging into the source code of the wetware not just the user interface, and I've researched a ton of this stuff for my writing projects. The practical application is from pastoral counseling; when you're a priestess, the community's problems wind up on your couch, and you either learn to deal with it or you find a different social role.

That said, one of the most common reasons people identify me that way is validation. It's something I do a lot. There is a tremendous amount of imposter syndrome, gaslighting, internalized oppression, bad tape, and other bullshit that distorts people's worldview and makes them question their own perceptions. This is best addressed by having an outside source validate their perceptions. It's particularly useful in cases of trans identity, abuse, and other things that are highly targeted. So if someone posts about their gender realignment work, I'll validate their expressed gender. That comes not just from my study of how humans work, but my archivist tendency to protect the truth. Validating it helps it stick. I've had people say that just this was more useful than what their professional therapists have done, so clearly there's a need for it.


Thing is, right now you can't look up "validation therapy" and find someone who does it. There are support groups that do a lot of it through peer counseling, but that's not quite the same thing and it's almost always thematic, which means you may not be able to find a group with the exact theme you need in your area. If there was a generic one-to-one version, that wouldn't be a problem.

So I'm thinking it would be useful to have validation therapy as a thing unto itself. The basic idea would be for the prospective client to declare something for which they need support ("I have a Ph.D. in physics but I still don't feel like a real scientist."), and the counselor would make sure that's a safe thing to reinforce (not a dangerous one, like a substance abuse problem). Then it would start with stating and repeating the trait to be validated, using techniques like mirroring ("Nobody believes that I'm a man, and I hate that." "You're a man. It sounds like you're frustrated when people don't believe you."). Later it could explore why the client has difficulty believing that particular truth, how it has been attacked and unsupported by others around them, etc. with attention to observation and confirmation skills, using verbal self-defense to fend off attacks, and building a social support network of positive friends. Then introduce mental and emotional techniques for self-support, perhaps borrowing from the logical methods in cognitive-behavioral therapy to repair flawed thinking, the positive affirmations of enlightenment work, etc.

This process uses outside validation first to stabilize a wobbly self-image, then more analysis of what's wrong, and introduction of coping skills to shore up the idea and make it stable from the inside out. It's one of those rare situations where working surface-to-core is more effective, because the client distrusts their core, so you have to start where there is trust -- outside -- and then teach them self-trust. Think of it like wrapping a cast around the outside of a broken leg.

This would be helpful for addressing:
* gaslighting
* imposter syndrome
* internalized oppression
* issues with sex/gender identity or orientation
* the social fallout from invisible illness
* abuse, rape, or other violation where the victim was ordered to keep silent

The cool thing is, while it would be awesome to have a professional version of this in the phonebook under "validation therapy," that's not the only way to use it. The same concepts can be plunked into any peer counseling, pastoral counseling, support group, or whatever other circumstance anyone might think it fits. You can do it in private conversation any time someone says "... but nobody believes me" or "I wish I could believe X about myself." Echo and validate. It's a basic technique of emotional first aid, which can provide a lot of relief even in very small amounts.
Tags: family skills, life lessons, safety
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