The broad church of psychological practice ...

Posted: Tuesday 22nd September 2020

In a recent reflective practice session we began, as is our custom, by asking the team member leading this particular session what he wanted to use the time for. ‘Well’ our colleague began ‘the child is doing this and that, and the foster carers are doing this and that, and the parents are doing this and that….’. Our colleague described what he saw as ‘the problem’. ‘Ok, that all sounds pretty tough’ we responded ‘and, what’s the problem for you with all of that?’ we asked our colleague. ‘Well, I’m wondering whether the foster placement is going to become very stressed and might even break down.’ he replied, still preoccupied by the problem for other people. ‘So a problem for you is that you’re worried?’ we guessed. ‘Yes’ he agreed, and then added ‘and actually,... the child has started to reject my direct work with her too. She’s started to tell me that my questions are stupid and I’m ruining her life… I’m feeling pretty rubbish about that.’

When we move from perceiving a problem as solely ‘out there’ amongst other people, and instead describe it in terms of how we ourselves are also involved with it, we shift from an individual frame to a relational frame of understanding. We become involved. When we include ourselves in our relational description of a problem, we can also include ourselves as a source of valid information about the nature of the problem, and as an agent of change in the life of the problem. We are more empowered to be useful to our ‘clients’ by including ourselves in the frame of what is going on.

One form of using ourselves in therapeutic work is by considering how transference occurs in human relationships. Transference refers to a process by which experiences of relationships in other parts of a person’s life, in the past for instance, become transferred to the person’s relationship with the therapist. Of course, psychotherapists from psychodynamic traditions understand this very well. When we understand that a person’s experiences in their other relationships will naturally arise in the relationship with the therapist, then this therapeutic relationship can offer a safe context in which to work through and resolve the issues involved. It is as if the therapist is saying ‘bring your problematic relational experience to me, and let’s live it together, work it out together, until you don’t need to live it any more.’.  The successful digestion of a problem through processing it in a safe therapeutic relationship can provide a new template of experience. The therapist has lent themselves to their client in the form of a relationship, until they are no longer needed, and the person can take the experience with them back into their own world of relationships.

Returning to our practice at MyST: We appreciate what a broad church is it to work psychologically. There are many models of being useful. Sitting on one church pew, we might use the myriad of psychological knowledges to empower others through understanding their experiences differently. Take for instance, situations in which children are initially understood in terms of what is wrong with them. We can use psychological knowledge to help shift adults’ understanding of these children towards a view of them as behaving logically and effectively, really very cleverly and resourcefully in fact, given their context and experiences. And then again, equally poised on a different church pew, we can use an understanding of psychological processes such as offering ourselves as a resource to others in a therapeutic relationship. Psychological practice is a broad church. And Amen for that.

Jen & Jael

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