How to spot it and what to do next - a step-by-step recipe book (for processing the therapist’s dilemmas)
After the OTS training day we had in Oxford on September 16th (on ‘Relational Dilemmas of First Sessions and Initial Assessments') we have had several enquiries and requests to take the topic further and deeper. There was a clear sense that we needed a Part 2, and it was understood that Michael’s principle that the client’s conflict becomes the therapist’s conflict is just the first step in exploring the connection between the client’s and the therapist’s inner world in the context of the working alliance.
So this email is inviting you to register by reply your interest in us organising a follow-up day (prior attendance not required) to take the ideas from the day deeper into your practice, and help you embed the skills you will learn more deeply (more details at the end of this email). If there is sufficient interest, as we expect there will be, we will be doodling for a preferred date within the next few months.
Three things stood out from the work we did in the small groups, as born out by some of the feedback:
- as therapists we don’t always know when we are in conflict;
- when we do know, we often hit a blank wall - what to do or how to understand what’s going on;
- in order to avoid the discomfort of the conflict, we take refuge in default therapeutic interventions, routine manoeuvres and habitual stances, i.e. mechanisms which dilute the necessary charge and tension in the relationship - in doing so, we abort the therapeutic process or precipitate ruptures in the alliance
Some of the feedback was: ‘It is scary to feel like you don’t know what to do as a therapist, so it can be a relief to not know you are in conflict.’ (this is rather reminiscent of Bion’s statement: “In every consulting room there ought to be two rather frightened people.”)
Being aware of and acknowledging our internal (countertransference) conflict as therapists feels like we’re losing our therapeutic position, and a sense that we are failing. In order to avoid the inherent sense of feeling powerless and vulnerable, we resort to our ‘habitual position’ as therapists, trying to shore up our shaky therapeutic position. One of the most common manoeuvres is to ask more questions of the client in the hope of ‘getting somewhere else’, where we can feel on safer ground. However, in doing so we then manage to fall into two further pitfalls:
- by trying to ‘move on’ or ‘hold on’ to our therapeutic position, we give the implicit message to the client that we can’t bear their pain, and can’t sit in it with them;
- because we are doing so defensively, prematurely and without awareness or preparation, our interventions precipitate us further into enactment: we fall down on one or the other side of our conflict, and fail to ‘hold’ the conflict, or to catch the rupture we are entangled in.
This training day will develop your capacity to be aware of your conflict as a therapist and learn to ‘sit in it’ without being overwhelmed by pressure, fear or shame. It then becomes more possible to extract the precious information which the therapist’s conflict contains about the relational dynamic and the client’s inner world.