Monday, June 2, 2014

Self-of-the Therapist in the Living Moment: Dr. Aponte

Jeannette Kiser is a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology program here at Trinity Christian College.

In the Marriage, Couple & Family Counseling class offered at Trinity Christian College my then professor Dr. Mike Ideran, assigned the class a choice of a written final or a final presentation. My cohort member, Terry Jones, and I felt we would learn more through putting together a presentation on one of the concepts that we learned in class rather than regurgitating information on a test. During one of our subsequent class sessions, Dr. Ideran came in with an article entitled, “Training of the Person of the Therapist in the Academic Setting” (Aponte, et al, 2009).

The article offered many indications of how important family of origin issues are in the life themes of individuals. The article also introduced Terry and I to a rather fascinating individual, Dr. Harry Aponte. Dr. Aponte is a Structural Family Therapist who also teaches at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The article further introduced us to his work on the concept of signature theme and the Person of the Therapist Training Model (POTT Model). The POTT model is a training program where one spends a year exploring, working, and resolving their signature themes. Signature themes are struggles or wounds that permeate through an individual’s being without them being aware of them.

In October of 2013 Terry contacted Dr. Aponte to ask if he would be willing to spend 15 to 20 minutes being interviewed by us so that we may further understand his concept of signature themes and the POTT Model. About a month later Dr. Aponte granted our interview. This gracious man provided us with one hour and fifteen minutes of his valuable time. This interview was an amazing experience. The understanding that Dr. Aponte has of working with clients and the therapeutic experience aligns quite well with my view of therapy. We discussed everything from cultural influences (he is Puerto Rican and Catholic “raised in the slums of New York”) to the use of the self-of-the therapist.

The use of the “self-of-the therapist” is realizing that the client gets us (the therapist) as we are. It is the therapist’s responsibility to be aware of what it is that they bring to the therapeutic process (or the living moment). Dr. Aponte suggested a question that therapists should often ask themselves, “What of me is affecting the therapeutic process?” That question is really what the POTT model and signature themes are all about. What about us, good, bad, ugly, indifferent is affecting our therapeutic presence in the living moment?
Dr. Aponte states, “I have to take something from my human experience that relates to the core of the other person’s humanity. Yes, I have to recognize our differences. But if I am going to do this work we have to discover our sameness. We all suffer, we all get lonely, depressed, discouraged. We all are longing for love and somehow or other I have to find that very essence of what it is to be human and vulnerable and fallible.”
We as therapists have to get in touch and feel “our common humanity” so that we can feel what our clients are feeling, cry when they cry, hurt when they hurt, smile when they smile, etc. In order to do this Dr. Aponte says that we have to open ourselves up to our own brokenness, our own woundedness.

As therapists we must know about ourselves in order to develop the skills and discipline that will allow us to tap into our experiences and figure out how those experiences will fit into our model of therapy. “How do we use ourselves to maximize our effectiveness in the therapeutic process?” When our clients come to us we are joining them in their journey, in that one particular life moment and we are offering to aide them in overcoming the hurdle they are presently facing.
Dr. Aponte offers his perspective on the human condition and the role of the therapist. “People are not broken or in need of being fixed. People are on a journey of their own and we are merely meeting them in a moment of their life history.” –Dr. Aponte


Aponte, H.J, Powell, F.D., Brooks, S., Watson, M.F., Lizke, C., Lawless, J. & Johnson, E. (2009). Training the person of the therapist in an academic setting. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 35(4), 381-394.