The feeling of love experienced or expressed in the psychotherapy ‘room’ is a complex dynamic to encounter. I will attempt to analyse this phenomena and my experiencing of a profound and surprising blossoming in the counselling relationship.
During training at Greenwich University to become a counsellor, we (students) were advised and taught about the growing of warm intimate feelings between client and counsellor, warned of the dangers of developing a relationship that is based on unseen and unknowable factors. That drive powerful ingredients and are most often used as a catalyst to the counselling dyad. Like a nuclear physicist, carefully bespectacled, be-gloved and radiation suited – mindfully managing radioactive substances as though all errors could, end not only the experiment but her life and the lives of many. And so this last development in healing is to be handled with care.
Recently I learned that in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy the client is in part ‘supposed’ to fall in love with their counsellor. Thus recreating the powerful and intimate connection a client may have had with primary care givers. Evolution of intense feelings are a bi-product of meeting with one person and sharing intimate, hidden aspects of ones life with a trained professional week after week, at times for years. Psychotherapy can be a significant challenge for those, who find being open, congruent, honest or trusting of themselves or another an uncomfortable and at times a painful invitation to encompass change. The other outcome is that a client is to also fall out of love and humanise the counsellor. Finding fault where once there was none. The client potentially can then enter the final phase of support. Looking to gain perspective on granular aspects of living life alongside another, who is willing to also acknowledge all aspects – comparatively-realistically-compassionately.
Before a client enters the counselling room, there may have been past experiences of hurt. Vulnerability being squashed or vanquished by those appointed to care, however these carers did not, could not. And so the person who takes their seat across from the counsellor is rightfully wary. The past has taught them to be alert, to any hint, that any form of harm, insult or embarrassment is met in a formerly used similar self-protective way (Friend, Fight, Flee, Freeze). In time the furtive eyes – dart less. The slightly scrunched body posture unfurls. Petal like. They are able to hold gazes more and then, they really speak. In this place, at these times there is almost a oneness in communication between counsellor and client. It feels like flight. A sense of trust is establishing itself and the distance between the people in the room disappears…
An encounter with a client left me floundering last year. They said just before our session came to a close, “I Love You, Man.” I believed I knew what they meant. They were affirming that something important and meaningful was being recognised in them and that they found this emergent quality both beautiful and surprising. Returning the sentiment with a depth of feeling, by not just saying the words was the difficult part for me. I have been inside these moments of heartfelt connection before. They always surprise and invite me to think about what the counselling work has been able to begin attending to. Like a Doula bringing to life, to light – the unseen…
With the client I hoped that my words and commitment to the challenging work we were engaged with were enough. Simply saying in a constricted, halting way ‘I love you’ would not have conveyed honestly the depth of feeling I hold for the work and for them (clients). I floundered because in the transaction something of equal value is to be offered in the moment. This is a societal lesson. Anything less seems unfair. There was little time left at the end of the session. I knew that a rushed offering would lose the content and meaning of the message. In that moment I may have smiled and nodded and shown my appreciation. Hoping that a felt sense of mindful embrace would convey my connection to them and to the work. The fear, my fear was that I couldn’t bring balance to the exchange. That would be my work to walk with and process in counselling supervision.
We could look at the meaning of the word love specifically in the psychotherapeutic space. However, love has more than a romantic application. I believe that just like the term therapy, there are layered and have multiple reasons and applications of both words use. “I Love You” is an expression of appreciation, recognition, a felt sense of something significant and a not easily identified pleasant sensation. I love you is an acknowledgment of a connection beyond a simple like. There are probably 7 billion expressions, interpretations and mis-understandings of the deeply intimate and connection filled word love. In counselling the relationship between those engaged in the process is similar to a friendship, or of a student and mentor. These relationships are anything but simple and yet remain complex and beautiful at the same time.
Having worked in a range of settings the idea of liking those who sit in the chairs or in the now virtual rooms opposite me has grown. My former prison supervisor, now friend, Anne Willoughby, advised that whilst you might find working with some of the clients difficult to connect with, and they you, aim to find one thing about them that you are curious about, that makes you smile internally, that you can like. It could be the clients trainers, jeans, the way they talk or an aspect of their face. Grow your appreciation of who they are from that point. This tool given back in 2010-2011 has grown to generally appreciating all clients I have the opportunity of working alongside. I realise that the expression and experience of love is tentative, risky, containing a power dynamic that has unknown elements buried deep within it’s catacombs. The equation consistently asked by a healer is; are they, am I, are we, ready to explore this wild landscape? Often the answer given is – Yes!
If projective identification, mirroring, transference and counter transference are the tools that support a clients’ self – entity to realise themselves. In and amongst a list of items of what the client throws out against the canvas of counselling/psychotherapy. The job, my job, is to gently return the disguised and dislodged parts of themselves back to them, in piecemeal fashion and slowly in procession. The client then can appreciate their full picture of themselves as I and close allies do. With congruence, compassion and yes, a deeply resourced, well informed and suitably intentioned – Love.
I first came across the word Doula a few years ago at a training event. Since then I have been struck by the necessity of the role and the idea of what a Doula does. The link takes you to a website about Doulas.
There was something about the episode of the Stoop that took love on an interpretive ride. Polyamory was discussed in an open curious investigative fashion. I enjoyed the multiple discoveries made.
Brené Brown’s, Atlas of The Heart book and short podcast series about Atlas of the Heart with her sisters, is both informative, searingly honest reflections and often hilarious. The mini series is a great companion to the beautiful and well crafted work of a modern sage.
This is Love and The Magpie of Heart Mountain is a phenomenal story of love found in a hard place and at a difficult time in an American’s History.
When I heard that President Obama had his own podcast with his friend Bruce Springsteen, I was intrigued to find out what these two men would talk about. I have been entertained and surprised from what I learned about both as they reflect on their lives. The podcasts are reflective in what they invite the listener to witness. Love appears as a character connecting their stories to the past and future.
The Stoop Podcast – Polyfree
A Sisters Book Club Series Atlas of the heart
This is Love The Magpie of Heart Mountain Renegades: Born in The USA
Our Unlikely Friendship
Photo inspiration – glowing feelings.
Cover Photo Love Sign Hands photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash
1st Inlay photo ‘Benched Together’ by Marc A. Sporys on Unsplash
2nd Inlay photo ‘Family Time’ by Marc A. Sporys on Unsplash
3rd Inlay photo ‘Love Hearts Glitter’ by freestocks on Unsplash
4th Inlay photo ‘T-Shirt Design’ by Brian Lundquist on Unsplash
5th Inlay photo ‘Lean on me’ by Gemma Chua-Tran on Unsplash