Counselling, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being

Man or Machine?

I was speaking recently with one of my patients. They were describing their relationship with their parents in sad tones. “What about this relationship here?” I asked. “What do you mean?” they responded.

“Well, there’s a relationship here between you and me” I ventured.

“No there’s not. This isn’t a relationship. Relationships are about love and care and things. You’re my counsellor. There isn’t a relationship.”

I was tempted to launch into a lecture about the Presenting Past and its relationship to Transference and Projective Identification- but thought this probably wouldn’t help the work. So I asked instead how they did see the “relationship” between us. My patient wasn’t sure. I suggested that they saw me as a psychological “Speak your weight machine.” They put in a question or a problem and out comes an answer, with no sense that I might be touched by their question. Or curious. Or puzzled.Their is no therapeutic work without a relationship between the therapist and the patient. The nature of that relationship is always deeply informative and at the core of how I work.

The truth is that all my patients are in a relationship with me. They have found out my details, looked at my website, possibly read my blogs and , finally, met me. By which time they already have a fantasy about me and how we will work together. The relationship starts a long time before they come to me. This relationship will mirror all other relationships. Sometimes my patients ask about my health. I usually reply that I’m fine. Others come in and want to check out that I still like them. Then they can allow themselves to begin. Some come in a sit down quietly in their chair whilst others come in, lean forward and launch into a tirade against their family, their boss, their work, their life. One of my many tasks is to try and understand what’s happening today and what it might represent for both my patient and myself.

The roots of the word  “relationship” have the sense of a bringing back, restoring, association. All things that can be done alone but which make more sense when done with another person. (Which is why I dislike the idea of computerised “counselling”. It is at best a misnomer, at worst dangerous.This truly is “speak your weight” therapy. Input your problem now and the program will search its files for an answer that seems closest to your question. Please speak Now.I can imagine nothing further from the spirit of Freud, Jung and company. One does not have a relationship with a computer program.)

So, I shall continue to practice  therapy which makes the assumption that when two people meet, something dynamic happens. It’s called a Relationship.
Santa on 'I speak your weight' machine. Machine says 'Ho,ho,ho.'

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4 thoughts on “Man or Machine?

  1. Sue says:

    Just one caveat to add to this lovely piece… sometimes you can only face talking to your therapist if your “fantasy” is that they don’t actually give a damn. I know that once I realised mine was really “on my side”, I decided it was time to go, because it no longer felt safe to say things in case I hurt her feelings! Perhaps some of us need machines instead? Or as well as…?

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  2. I could write a thesis about that response!! I see the argument and the logic but what would have happened if you had stayed with that therapist and explored the idea that you might do them harm if you allowed that they cared bout you

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    • Sue says:

      What indeed!! I might have ended up where I am a bit quicker, or indeed somewhere completely different. But then we can only make the progress we can make at a given point, and some lessons you have to come back to later. Meantime, feel free to write a thesis any time you like 🙂

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