Today began with a recap on Freud’s theories; the unconscious mind and psychic determinism, the personality structure of the ‘id’, ‘ego’ and superego’, the emotional experiences of the past influencing all later experience, ‘eros’ the life force, and ‘thanatos’ the death instinct being the driving forces of human existence, the psychosexual stages of development (anal, oral, genital, latency and adolescence), defence mechanisms, and the concepts of transference and countertransference in therapy.
A lot of time was spent discussing transference and countertransference within the group, it’s inevitability in all relationships we form, particularly between therapist and client, and the importance of our awareness of it as therapists, and how we choose to use it. Sometimes, when considered necessary it is played along with, if the therapist considers it necessary for the client to work through issues with the subject the transference takes its root from; sometimes it is confronted and broken, providing material for study within the therapy room. In psychodynamic therapy it is a key that can potentially unlock the whole therapeutic journey, as the emphasis in this type of therapy is the impact of the past on present day life. Transference in therapy can bring the past into the ‘here and now’ and make those feelings available once again, ready to be worked with.
The therapist must retain awareness of its presence, and must also be aware of any countertransference that takes place – the therapist’s own feelings in response to the client. More time was taken discussing this, particularly in relation to supervision. Although the supervisor is not present in the therapy sessions, he/she is the third person in the counselling relationship, and it is necessary from them to provide a distanced perspective of what takes place in the therapy. When transference and countertransference occur, the supervisor must bring this to the counsellor’s attention, and discuss the potential consequences of how it is handled, as well as making the counsellor aware of their own feelings in this process, and possibly assisting them with any work that may need to be done.
Nearer the end of the day, we read an interesting piece from Hawkins and Shohet; ‘supervision in the helping professions’; their supervision model is derived from the ‘good enough mother’ theory by Winnicott (also psychodynamic), and suggests that just as the mother is able to care for her child with support from others ( a husband or extended family), the counsellor can care for their client with support from the supervisor. They list 6 mains focusses for supervision; reflection on the content of the counselling session, exploration of strategies/interventions used , exploration of the process and relationship, focus on the here and now process as a mirror and finally, to focus on the supervisor’s transference. All of these areas of study provide space for transference and countertransference to be noted and discussed, and worked with.
Personally, I find the whole concept of transference completely fascinating, and feel like I have spent my whole life observing it, not just in my relationships, but in those surrounding me too. I am well aware that I married a man that was like my father, but only after I had realised how all my father’s strength lay within the support of my strong willed, dynamic mother – as a result, his actions (or lack of them) forced me into becoming my mother myself – something I really didn’t want!
The practical part of the day was spent discussing an issue concerning transference. I was the counsellor first, listening to S. It was very, very interesting, and so good to be back to doing what I love! I so enjoy sessions like this, where we are given a subject and an orientation to practise with – I feel that it tests me, trying to keep my counselling approach with a discipline – in this case, psychodynamic. I found myself feeling calm and quite confident about the session. Although S tried to avoid the heart of the subject matter many times, I pulled her back, smoothly and gently, I was assertive ‘Right now, I am more interested in how this related to your feelings about your father’. It felt that that I led her to the root of the issue, and some degree of confrontation/resolution ‘so I wonder what you would say to your father if he were here now’ – maybe not strictly pure psychodynamic – possibly a little bit gestalt, although we didn’t go so far as to use an empty chair. It was enjoyable though. I felt engaged and empowered by it; exhausted afterwards though, as the process group witnessed.
The high level of emotion within the group that had been raised by the day’s subject was palpable within the group session. I even felt the need to pop a couple of paracetemol, as I could physically feel the electricity being generated in the form of a ‘storm headache’! I’m ashamed to say it affected my concentration levels in the last part of the day, where we discussed the previously mentioned Hawkins and Shohett model – it took me rather a long time to get my brain in tune with what the words written in front of me were saying – something I found extremely frustrating, I don’t like being the ‘class dunce’, which was how I definitely felt at the end of the day, when we left. Luckily a large gin and tonic imbibed when I got home eased the frustration somewhat. Ironic really, – my placement being at a drug and alcohol recovery centre… (!)