This week, we spent our morning studying ‘Hobson’s conversational model’ , (Robert Hobson, an English psychotherapist born 1920-died 1999) which has been more recently called a ‘psychodynamic -interpersonal approach’ to therapy.
At the core of this approach is the concept of self by William James, the philosopher, who said that;
(1) All thought is owned by some personal self;
(2) All thought, as experienced by human consciousness, is constantly in flux and never static;
(3) There is an on-going continuity of thought, as it moves from one object to another, constantly comprising shifting focus and context
(4) Thought typically deals with objects different from and independent of consciousness itself, so that two minds can experience common objects
(5) Consciousness takes an interest in particular objects, choosing to focus on them rather than on others
In my opinion, these concepts naturally lend themselves as cornerstones for a therapeutic process – although it is one that Hobson was ‘unwilling to present as a fixed and definitive set of ideas. To me, it is about fluidity, flux and flexibility, about the process of change – and for that reason, I really resonate with this. (In fact I would say that in reading his ideas on the page, it seemed to articulate all my intuitive thoughts on the essence of the counselling process)
The approach was originally called ‘conversational’ because of the emphasis on the use of language. Hobson stated that the therapist and client have a ‘special friendship’ – therapy, and the therapist can build this relationship through developing a mutual ‘feeling language’ . The therapist can be with the client ‘together in their aloneness’, thereby helping the client through the development of this relationship and the healing power of ‘being there’ with them (echoing several other attachment theories, to me – I recall Fairbairn and Bowlby talking of rebuilding insecure attachments)
Hobson holds true the fundamental notions of psychodynamic theory; that people repeat destructive relationship patterns from the past, that we all use defence mechanisms to shield ourselves from difficult internal feelings, memories and desires, that our problems can stem from unresolved developmental tasks, that we have a need for secure emotional attachments and that the therapist in working with these issues must be aware of transference and counter transference occurring. Yet to me, it seems that his approach bridges the gap between traditional psychoanalysis, where the therapist is at a distance from the process – abstaining from any self- disclosure or impacting their own personality on the therapy – and humanistic approaches, where the therapist is almost as much a part of the process as the client; where the relationship is the key which unlocks the therapy. The concept of ‘aloneness’ is undoubtedly an existential issue, which requires warmth and compassion in discussion, and imposes personality on all who discuss it. I feel it is this concept of the therapist being integral, as an individual, to the process, that brings the psychodynamic approach up to date – shedding the image of a cigar smoking doctor, holding a notebook, sitting behind a client on a couch, saying very little, and I like that it does that.
AS a group, we spent a long time discussing our inbuilt need to feel some kind of resolution from the counselling interview – that as keen students; heads exploding with theory, we are unconsciously striving to apply that theory and to see some kind of progress being made, for our own satisfaction and the consolidation of our learning. However this is not necessarily what is always going to happen, and often it is just not necessary – the process in itself is enough, and trust and faith in the long term power of the process and respect for the client’s autonomy in their own change is vital, and must be remembered. Often, we are so engrossed in the story being presented, that we forget about the process itself. Supervision is the place where we need to take our reflections on the session, and use our supervisor to help us clarify the power of the process as much as the theory and story. Hobson’s model exemplifies this beautifully.
Luckily for me, I had only recently watched a video of myself counselling, (and bizarrely, fortuitously, one where the volume was very poor) and so I had a slightly more objective view of my own experience of the counselling process to draw from. Because of the poor volume, I had paid extra attention to the body language used, the intonation in voices, shifts in rhythm and the overall feel of the session, and in my reflection I felt my eyes being truly opened to my own abilities as a counsellor. I saw so many areas for improvement, and so many new areas for future work. The benefit of reflection like this is huge, again highlighting the importance and huge gains to be made from supervision. The supervisor is the third person in the relationship, providing that objectivity of someone from the outside looking in – vital and so valuable!
I don’t know whether I was invigorated or intoxicated by this idea, but (in retrospect, foolishly) I put myself forward to be recorded again in the afternoon, and let the whole class watch my abilities as a counsellor on the big screen – an exercise in studying ‘the process’. Why, why, why??? BACP Self care – lesson to be learnt, K, you are not a natural extrovert! Why do I feel the need to constantly push myself forward towards other people with my own personal learning? Firstly, allowing myself to be counselled in front of the whole class during the last lesson of last year, then blogging this journal, then doing this??? Is it for the adrenaline rush? Cos I feel so awful afterwards, having done it – but then I am well aware that I like making myself feel uncomfortable, as I am secretly pleased with myself for having pushed myself through the pain. Ooooh, this really is stuff for my therapy – I’m hearing echoes of the eating disorder inner voice coming back “punish, punish, take control,” as well as the overactive superego, my family telling me ”don’t be shy,” and Fairbairn’s internal saboteur; setting myself up for criticism and failure, some external punishment for my internal self- hater.
Sadly, the crash after I did this, did exactly what the saboteur wanted – set me up to fall, and I felt myself crashing after that – not that anyone around me would have known – well, I may have been slightly quieter outwardly, but I know that I do a very good acting job – I have been perfecting it for nearly forty years now! The rest of the afternoon was a blur to me, and that evening, and the next day too. It is only now, two days later, that I feel able to write about it, and I still don’t understand it. More exploration needed, plainly…