This group is for experienced therapists only (practising for 8 years or more), and has had a consistent core group of participants for the last few years, meeting 4 or 5 days per year. There is a pool of 18 participants, and 2 more places are available from 2016.

As an experienced practitioner, you are likely to recognise that …

  • a good working alliance is a paradoxical process: it needs to be robust enough, so it can break down; it needs to break down in order for it to strengthen and deepen (in order to have a strong therapeutic position we need to be able to also lose it);
  • breakdowns of the working alliance with certain clients draw out of you a disproportionate amount of engagement as well as requiring additional attention in supervision - this constitutes a fertile edge for continuing professional development;
  • your conflicts and dilemmas with these clients are not just a function of your lack of skill or your supposed incompetence - your difficulties are in some deep way a necessary part of the process (in other words: there is a relational purpose inherent in the impasses and enactments that become constellated and co-created in the therapeutic relationship);
  • your client’s relational pattern has an uncanny knack for ferreting out shadow aspects of your therapeutic position (as well as that of the therapeutic tradition(s) you belong to);
  • your own woundedness, as a person and as a therapist, will be touched and activated as the relationship deepens, and thus becomes an essential ‘eye of the needle’ through which the process needs to pass;
  • much of our traditional theories and techniques does not adequately prepare us for the depth and intensity of these struggles and difficulties.

How to access the transformative potential of impasses & enactments?

This weekend is based on the proposition that there is no way out of enactments, but only a way into and through them. Our starting point will be that the very trappedness, stuckness and conflictedness we get to feel in the therapeutic position contains the seeds of transformation, both for the client and for the therapeutic relationship as a system.

To increase our chances of dealing with impasses, breakdowns and enactments successfully, we want to make sure we have a maximum of resources at our disposal, and that we draw on all of the following:

Integration of widest possible range of approaches (broad-spectrum integration):

The different approaches have profoundly different ways of perceiving, conceptualising and working with similar kinds of dynamic. Each therapeutic tradition has certain sensibilities and developed particular expertise, and we do not want to deprive ourselves of ideas, concepts, tools and techniques available within our field which we are unfamiliar with.

Holistic bodymind awareness and embodied engagement:

The bulk of all difficulties in the working alliance emerges and is perpetuated on levels of nonverbal communication. By bringing a differentiated awareness to those bodymind processes which modern neuroscience describes as essential, but subliminal, a whole new realm of perception, understanding and intervention becomes available to us.

Relational sensitivity to unconscious dynamics on multiple levels:

Michael has developed a unique extended model of ‘parallel process’ that can help us attend to and apprehend the dynamics of relational patterns across the various dimensions of the therapeutic relationship (what he calls the ‘Fractal Self’). Exploration and application of this model and its relevance to your practice constitutes one ingredient in the work of the group.

Integration of all relational modalities (including ‘medical model’):

Based upon and extending Petruska Clarkson’s model of relational modalities, we can go beyond attempts at integration via diverse theories and techniques, and arrive at a multiplicity of relational modalities which are all valid aspects of the whole that is the system of the therapeutic relationship. Michael has developed Clarkson’s model further, by integrating the ‘medical model’ as one valid modality, and conceiving of them in dynamic tension in the here and now of the therapeutic relationship.

Diamond model of relational modalities:

Based on the recognition that the therapist’s conflicts (in the countertransference) parallel the conflicts in the client’s inner world (character conflicts) and in the transferential field, we can conceive of the working alliance in constant oscillation between the poles of rupture and repair, enactment and containment/transformation of enactment. Surrendering to the ‘intersubjective mess’ that is the therapeutic relationship involves entering the enactment without taking refuge in theory or technique or categorically taking sides in the various polarities that arise (e.g. one-person versus two-person psychology assumptions).