I wrote this piece some years ago but never posted it. I’m not sure why.
I came across it this week when I was looking for a systemic family therapist and realised how hard it is to find good therapists with availability.
I’m about to do some further training and need to be in therapy as part of my course.
Someone once said to me, “I wouldn’t want to see a therapist who had to go to therapy.”
Externally, I smiled. Internally, I wondered about the wisdom of seeing a therapist who believed themselves to be so sorted that they never did any work on themselves. Where does that shit go if not into therapy?
Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of relationships and the way they shape our lives.
It is not at all unusual for therapy to look for insight and clarity in the developmental years of a client but, as my supervisor pointed out recently, it is helpful to have as full a knowledge as possible of where my client’s “stuff” ends and mine begins.
Countertransference can be used to great effect in therapy but only if the therapist is aware of it happening.
Driving down the motorway to Brighton for a conference on the way that early attachment impacts intimacy in adult relationships I find myself wondering whether I’m going as a professional or for personal reasons.
My daughter is in the back of the car plugged into her iPad, the dog is looking out of the window, and my wife is asking me to summarise Attachment theory before they let me out of the car and drive on to spend the day with my son and his girlfriend who is at University in the city.
“I don’t think I can do Attachment theory justice in twenty minutes,” I tell her.
My daughter offers some help from the back seat and so I leave her to talk about “The Love Quiz” by Hazan & Shaver and Harlow’s “Strange Situation” experiment involving infant observation while I try to work out if the bonnet on the car is securely attached having seen it flap about alarmingly in a particularly strong gust of wind moments before.
“What’s your attachment style then?” My wife asks, unwilling to let me off the hook and leading us down a road I don’t want to walk.
“Anxious avoidant,” I tell her, which is not strictly true but fits the moment perfectly.
“I wonder what mine is?” she says.
“You should ask your therapist. That’s the best place to talk about it.” I tell her.
“Maybe I’ll email her in advance so she can think about it.”
“She won’t need to think about it,” I tell her pulling over to check that the bonnet isn’t about to blow up in my face obscuring the windscreen and causing a catastrophic fatal accident.
They drop me off and I buy myself an expensive and disappointing coffee before making my way up the hill to the venue.
I tend to find other therapists (people) hard work. They tend to be inquisitive (intrusive) when all I really want to do is listen to the presentations and get through the day without talking to anyone.
There are no seats left on the outer edges of rows so I am forced to sit next to a lady who has travelled from Guilford and is making a weekend of it with her husband.
Through the morning talks, I ask myself which aspects of my relationship with my mother caused me to be who I am.
Was my mother overbearing and looking for a love she couldn’t get from my dad, or was she so occupied with the fights she had with him or something else entirely that she was not available for me in the way I would have liked?
We are asked to share with our partners a moment of intimacy in our own therapy, a time when something risky was offered which opened something in us.
I overshare with the lady from Guilford and find myself not only telling her about a moment but also providing the backdrop of deep depression, suicidal ideation and time spent in a psychiatric unit.
“Thank you for sharing that with me,” she says, like a therapist.
At lunchtime, I avoid the chance to “network” by quickly eating the sandwich provided and taking off down the road to “Infinity Foods” to buy rye flour I don’t need.
In the afternoon there is a presentation about a client desperate for intimacy but simultaneously terrified of it and a comment is made about how we tend to revert to our fundamental pattern at times of trauma.
I think about how, whenever I have been left I have felt completely abandoned, and the way that neediness and desperation create a self-fulfilling prophecy of solitude.
I make a note of the clients I have who fit into the different categories. Those who need to be found and acknowledged, those who need to be separate in order to thrive, and those who just crave a feeling of safety. I note that some people seem to need all three.
At the end of the day, the lady from Guilford turns to me and says,
“It’s been lovely meeting you and I’m so glad I sat next to you. It really made it a very enjoyable and informative day”.
I speak with sincerity when I tell her that I feel very lucky to have sat next to her too and wish her a happy weekend in Brighton.
Walking back to the car park, I think about the lady from Guilford and realise I didn’t introduce myself or ask for her name.