Psychotherapy is the one relationship where you have the chance of being clear about what is going on.
Did you grow up feeling you were being kept in the dark? Were you raised in a difficult family and felt left out of the loop? When you tried to ask questions about what was going on were you met with silence, anger and denial? Perhaps you were told you were being difficult, over sensitive, or too demanding for asking questions?
Then you would be left, still in the dark, and probably feeling worse about it.
Unhappiness has a context
I think it is always appropriate to consider the context of a situation. To ask yourself:
- what the problems you are experiencing relate to?
- when did they start?
- what was going on in your life then?
It happened to a client I will call Tyler, possibly as a consequence of his father’s death. In Tyler’s case the bereavement happened way back in his childhood. It was a traumatic loss that had a bad effect on the family, no one wanted to talk about it. Tyler was left particularly lost and alone.
The aftermath was different for everyone. It can take years, sometimes a lifetime, to unravel the consequences of an action. Years later Tyler would trace his experience of feeling an outsider back to the way he found himself outside the family after his father’s death.
For Tyler, losing his father meant that there was never anyway of him being able to know with confidence what went on between his mother and sister. Trying to get to the bottom of things only produced terrible arguments so he gradually learned not to ask questions. Instead he worked to live with it on his own.
Understanding the transference
Psychotherapy is the one relationship which can offer an alternative to obscure political family dynamics like these.
In psychotherapy both therapist and client have the chance to try to mutually understand the way the therapy relationship works. This is what working in the transference means. It means that there is a possibility of sharing the detailed senses that are had of how the therapy relationship is affected, influenced and changed by particular events.
If for example a client gives no warning and doesn’t come to a session and then the next week wants to brush the subject off without discussion, the therapist might be able to find an organic route (by organic I mean finding a natural link in the conversation, not forcing the subject into the discussion) to enquiring about what has happened? What caused you to miss the session? What got in the way of you letting me know that you wouldn’t be coming?
Therapy doesn’t have to be a persecutory relationship
The therapist isn’t asking these questions as part of a persecutory wish, they are asking them to try to find out more about what went on. Perhaps there are situations where such absences are ordinary. But often they contain all sorts of information about the client’s feelings about themselves that then get transferred to the therapy. For example, the way leaving the therapist waiting and without warning, expressed anger and unhappiness. It also cost the client his session.
Taking care to respect both parties feelings and experiences around such events, it can become possible to build trust in the therapy.
Yes, there may have been particular feelings that drove the client to act a certain way, but now, because a route is found into speaking about them a gain is made in the sense of trust and safety in the therapy. Now anger and unhappiness can be better shared without one person being left waiting in the dark.
In this way therapy is unlike all other relationships
A psychotherapy relationship can provide a working space in which more can be acknowledged about the sometimes strange thoughts and feelings that are the mainspring of obscure actions.
Often these obscure ways of thinking are rooted in very old family histories and experiences that could not be properly understood or spoken about when they began. In the case of Tyler’s family, there was no way of speaking about the bereavement, and because of that all manner of dysfunctional, strange and unhealthy ways of relating developed. There were all kinds of painful and difficult thoughts and feelings but they remained underground. They exerted an ongoing force and influence but could not be accessed until a missed therapy session created the possibility of starting to say more about them.