Counselling, Madness, Psychosis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being

Power proves the Man

SolonThe quote is from one Solon who lived in Athens in 638 B.C. I know little more than that about him.  The comment was posted on Twitter and caught my attention – as Tweets do occasionally. I began to play with the idea of power in a counselling relationship. As a counsellor i can hide behind my therapeutic anonymity to some extent. This is particularly true in psychoanalytic work with its emphasis on the therapist as a blank screen onto which the patent may project whatever they choose. (Although I find it hard at times to be this anonymous .”I” keep on breaking through! Fortunately my patients don’t seem to mind.) This anonymity is a kind of power. My silence or interpretation or comment carries a lot of weight .Far more than a casual conversation in the pub.  As I have discovered to my cost ,my words can make or break the therapeutic alliance. Which is one reason why good therapists try to say few words and allow the patient to do the talking. It’s their session, after all.

To take up this stance comes at some cost, particularly if one is being attacked.I have ended sessions feeling as though I have been in the ring with Mike Tyson. Yet to defend myself would have been to rob my patient of a valuable experience. To be able to be hateful and do it safely. I still remember a dream when I was in analysis. I put my analyst in the electric chair, fitted the cap etc and pulled the switch to kill her. I did it dispassionately. It was nothing personal! We spent some time talking about my envy of her and my hatred of her. Painful but very helpful for me to be hateful without having to make reparation. To allow ourselves to be hated requires a certain kind of power. There has to be a good enough sense of who we are to allow us to survive the attack. (I wear an artificial eye and have done for many years. I remember on a ward one very angry patient calling me “a fucking cyclops” because we had interrupted her attempting to have sex with another patient. That comment hurt. It was meant to. But my task was to hold her anger and survive the attack without retaliating.To have retaliated would have been to misuse my power as a nurse.

So, power proves the man. I agree with Solon. But like any proving, it can cost us dear.


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