It’s About Time

Clinical Update

By Zur Institute

View a complete list of Clinical Updates.

We measure time day-by-day and hour-by-hour, then by the minute and finally by the second: 3…2…1… until we finally arrive at the inevitable instant when we collectively cheer, “Happy New Year!” This modern-day ritual is expressive of the culture of Chronos, referring to a linear chronological and quantifiable understanding of time. Yet next to Chronos, stands his less popular brother, Kairos, reminding us of a different quality of time. Kairos emerges as the “right time”. It refers to “an opening in time” that allows for the birth of an intimate moment; a unique moment that can’t be planned nor forced, yet when it unexpectedly arrives, intuition calls, “Make your move”.

The siblings, Chronos and Kairos, often don’t get along so well. As mental health practitioners, we might feel challenged by external tensions between them that arise when a culture dominated by Chronos, expressed for example by the health insurance industry, rigidly measuring how much time we can spend with a patient, clashes with the therapeutic needs that require the understanding of Kairos for the ripening of a therapeutic process to take place. Sometimes it is internal conflicts between Chronos and Kairos that emerge in the context of our therapeutic work. We might hear voices claiming, “After a month in therapy I expected my client to have been making more progress. I should do something about it,” while on the other hand we might hear, “Wait for the right moment to act. It is the key for making a breakthrough”. Practitioners often need to walk a thin line between the two cultures of time. Becoming more conscious of this dialectical reality, can assist along the way.

The kind of patience Kairos teaches us includes, but goes beyond, the coping skills we encourage our clients to practice when standing in line at the post office or before saying something unkind to their partner. While attunement to Kairos demands tolerating frustrating or difficult circumstances and developing the ability for delayed gratification, Kairos also calls us, specifically as mental health professionals, to let go of our agendas and our expectations of our clients and of our process with them while at the same time staying alert and emotionally attuned to them so that we can witness and tend the “right moment” for action when it is ready to be born. And so, at this time, as we wait for the New Year to arrive, Chronos inevitably moving us in that direction, let us not forget that this may not be the right time for everyone to experience a sense of beginning. Let us not forget to also tend Kairos, allowing for significant beginnings and important transitions to be born in our lives and in the lives of our clients in their own time, in their own way, with their own agendas.