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The Narcissistic Mother and the Symbiotic Therapist

When you trip over and hurt yourself the narcissistic mother will sneer in a condescending voice, “Get up, you’re embarrassing me,” and the therapist would say in a tender dulcet tone, “Have you hurt yourself, can I give you a hand?”

While it’s a no-brainer that many people seek therapy for childhood psychological injuries, what is it about therapy that actually heals?  What therapy works best, CBT, DBT, Gestalt, REBT or supportive psychotherapy?  Do the therapist’s educational qualifications have any bearing on outcome?  Do male or female therapists heal clients quicker?  Or is it the person of the therapist who connects with the client that has the ultimate healing power?

Neuroscience has discovered that old memories can be overlaid with new ones.  If you practice something for long enough old neural pathways prune themselves and die off and new thicker, longer and stronger ones are forged.  These phenomena can happen when your therapist’s voice finally replaces childhood ones and lives peacefully in your head.  This is the unique transformation zone where changes in thinking lead to a better quality of life.  So how do we make this happen?  What type of therapy synergy needs to occur in order to reconstruct an inner life?

This renewal can be created when the client and the therapist connect deeply, and sometimes this can take a considerable amount of time, where there is enough trust to enable a regression of sorts to take place, where the therapist is perceived as a substitute mother.  A symbiosis needs to be incorporated where there is a symbolic union in the client and therapist relationship of the mother and child.  This is not a real or concrete union.  It is when two entities tune in on the same wave length and psychologically entwine; twirling, blending, melding, merging and enmeshing for a certain period of time.  And when it feels right both emerge, separate but whole, changed, metamorphosed, transformed and healed.  The hurt inner child finally becomes the functioning grown up.

This is the symbiosis that did not happen in childhood, when mother and baby do not connect for many varied reasons, such as post natal depression or relationship issues with the father.  This is where there is no mutual back and forth mirroring and under these circumstances a baby’s brain can be adversely affected and growth retarded.  Imagine a tree growing with food and water but without sunlight.

A good-enough therapist recognizes when someone is looking for a mother substitute as well as new sets of social skills and abilities to adapt to the vicissitudes of life.  Sometimes merging with mindfulness, where both parties understand the literal from the symbolic, inner strengths and personal resilience can follow.

It happens when we receive the other as safe and secure, warm and strong, but with deep respect for those all important boundaries.  Sometimes, and for me, it is the healing power of the loving/kindness and care of the other that is the most transformative.  These feelings emanate from the same place as teenage love and romantic love, love for a pet, love for the planet and love for God herself.  It is this uncanny understanding and empathy which is the hallmark of super therapists.

It is the person of the therapist that heals.  Sometimes clients can feel like they have two mothers:  One, a biological mother who we spent nine months inside, and the other, a spiritual mentor who gave rebirth to us and teaches us what we didn’t know about life.

The Narcissistic Mother and the Symbiotic Therapist

Sonia Neale

Sonia Neale was recently awarded the Inaugural Barbara Hocking SANE Australia Fellowship to study and research Borderline Personality Disorder overseas in the USA, Canada, UK and Ireland. Her previous Psych Central blog was called Therapy Unplugged. She is the author of two books, The Bad Mother’s Revenge and Death by Teenager, both published by ABC Books/Harper Collins. She lives in Western Australia, is married with three adult children, has studied psychoanalytic psychotherapy, has a Certificate IV in Mental Health and is studying for a Psychology/Counselling degree. She currently works as a peer support worker in the mental health field. Please email her on davson at

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APA Reference
Neale, S. (2010). The Narcissistic Mother and the Symbiotic Therapist. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Jun 2010
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