I recently began a drawing class. I’d often wondered if I had any latent ability to draw. J still don’t know the answer to this question since my artistic career was short lived. I stayed for one session and decided that this was not for me. Or, that this way of leaning did not work for me. We spent 15 minutes playing with pencils. Learning the difference between H and B leads. Soft and hard. Then we were given a landscape to fill in, using different techniques. Cross hatching; herringbone; vertical over horizontal. All of which were present in a Van Gogh sketch we were shown. “I can see all those techniques in Van Gogh’s picture.” our tutor quipped brightly. (I am not, i discovered, any Van Gogh.)
I struggled for about 10 minutes trying to fill in my landscape with these styles. At the end of it I looked at it and thought that all I had done was to take something I had admired and spoilt it. My scribblings added nothing the landscape we had been given. I talked about this experience with somebody recently. “If you truly want to draw something, sit down and look at it until you understand it.” I haven’t used this advice because I’m not sure how much I want to learn to draw. But it rang true in my experience as a counsellor. If I want to understand somebody, I have to spend the time just seeing them. Observing them. Looking at them. It’s an intimate experience. And a scary one. For both me and my patient.
Scary for my patient because I am made into God who sees all and understands all. Scary for me because there is a danger of believing this fantasy. Scary, too, because as much I see my patients-or try to- so I am also seen. Much as I try to become the classic Freudian blank screen, “I” inevitably intrude.
There is a tension in this being seen. For some people it is comforting to have me make an observation about them that has truth in it. To comment that they seem lonely today. Or that I am puzzled about where they are right now. Others find it intrusive and persecutory. For some counselling becomes a game of Hide and Seek. I am and am not expected of find my patient. If I fail to find them, there is a pyrrhic victory. They have successfully avoided being found. But the rage and fury that follow can be overwhelming. Trying to comment on this process is itself fraught with the same difficulties.
The other aspect of being seen is that it is a reminder of our separateness. The lover who gazes into her beloved’s eyes and melts. The baby who looks up at his mother. These are bitter sweet experiences because they simultaneously remind us of our joinedness and our separateness.
My next blog will explore this tension further.