Morit Heitzler will soon be running a workshop in Oxford on the topic of "The therapist's habitual position".
Traditionally, when we describe a therapist's way of working, we think about theory and technique:
- what kind of concepts, models and theoretical framework underpins the approach?
- and what kind of interventions and therapeutic responses flow from this?
In simple terms: the theory is what I THINK about as a therapist, and technique is what I DO in response to the client.
However, this way of thinking about our work does not do justice to the roots and the essence of our work. It is a way of thinking borrowed from science and the ‘medical model’: it is not different from a doctor, who uses their scientific medical knowledge to examine, diagnose and administer a treatment to a patient.
The more we think about therapy as an intersubjective two-person encounter in which the quality of relationship is what matters, the more we recognise that the therapist's being - their underlying relational presence and stance - is a third significant factor alongside theory and technique.
What determines the therapist's implicit relational stance is a complex mixture of the therapist's own wounds, biography and background as well as their therapeutic training(s) and their own therapeutic process.
Just as people in general have habitual relational styles and patterns, therapists have habitual therapeutic positions (which we can think of as 'habitual countertransference' - attitudes on the part of the therapist which they take on as soon as they enter the therapeutic position, irrespective of the particular client in front of them). It is the therapist's habitual position which generates a particular therapeutic space - an atmosphere which may be more or less conducive, more or less transformative, depending on the client's character.
We can think about the therapist's habitual position in terms of certain stereotypes (the fairy godmother, the wise man, the stern interpreter, the challenger, the witness, the advocate, the doctor, etc), or in terms of the basic relational modalities or different kinds of therapeutic relatedness.
Most impasses in therapy and most breakdowns in the working alliance involve the therapist's habitual position somehow, and it is therefore an important and worthwhile focus for exploration for every reflective practitioner.