The goings-on in the consulting room have become more transparent of late. Thank goodness. We know more than the hackneyed clichés supplied by the movies in which the therapist knows all and bestows wisdom on those who, prone on a couch, consult with them.
Therapists are interested in how the individual, the couple or the family experiences and understands their difficulties. That has to be a starting place. We can be of value if our first port of call is to listen, to gradually feel ourself into the shoes of the other, to absorb the feelings that are being conveyed and to think and then to say some words.
The thinking and talking that I do inside the consulting room is at odds with many features of ordinary conversation. Not that it is mysterious, but it isn’t concerned with conventional ways of sharing or identifying. The therapist makes patterns and theorises, but they are also reflecting on the words that are spoken, how they are delivered – in a staccato fashion, or flatly, or stop and start – and how the words, once spoken, affect the speaker and the therapist themselves.
Words can give voice to previously unknown feelings and thoughts. Words can illuminate. That’s why it’s called the talking cure. But just as words reveal so, too, can they obscure, and this gets us to the listening and feeling part of the therapy. Whatever and however the utterances are delivered, they will have an impact on me as a therapist. I might feel hopeless, I might feel energised, I might feel pushed away, I might feel demanded of, I might feel pulled to find solutions.
The influence of the other is what makes any relationship possible or impossible. A therapist is trained to reflect on how those who consult with them affect them. As I try to step into the shoes of the analysand and then out again, my endeavour is to hold both those experiences, plus an awareness of my…