Blog 116. Therapy Part F: A Brief Outline Of The Therapist’s Role During Therapy : Listening, Observation, Transference, Body Transference, Boundaries, Focus And Challenge.
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When clients arrive, many don’t realise that the work begins at the door. A client’s manner, their body language or how they greet a therapist and so on, immediately becomes part of the therapy.
By the time the client is then seated,
1) The therapist may already have begun to pick up on certain behaviour with regards what a client may be struggling with.
The therapist is then tasked with the journey of listening attentively to what the presenting problem is, and then via each session, to what is expressed and how it is being expressed – via the voice, the various intonations or vibrations within the voice. The therapist also carefully watches a client as well as their partner’s body language, if seeing a couple. This is important because often we say a lot more, via our use of gestures, through the use of our hands, how we sit, how we move, how we position our our legs or indeed our feet, and whether we face our partners or not, or how, when and if this direction changes.
But most importantly, a therapist is trained to distinguish and pick up emotions from the client or couple – emotions which ‘do not belong’ to the therapist. This is because during a therapist’s training and indeed their own therapy, they would have learned to distinguish between their own emotions and that of the client, especially if any issues or emotions overlap.
2) By the time a client/s are then seated, sometimes the therapist may begin to take on certain projected roles which may change, either during the session or by the next session depending on the issues a client may be struggling with.
Throughout the therapeutic process, a client may project their feelings and expectations onto the therapist. A therapist is trained to pick this up and to mirror it back to the client.
This is what is known as transference. This is quite a complex area but simply put – it is when certain feelings or desires and indeed expectations are redirected and applied to therapist. For example, a therapist can begin to represent an authority figure, the client’s mother or father and so on. How a client then relates or expects or feels towards the therapist, as a result of the projection becomes part of the therapy, and will be mirrored back to the client.
This usually occurs if certain feelings, pain, anger, frustrations towards a parent, were never fully addressed or resolved in childhood. If the feelings continue into adulthood, they could land up being projected onto partners. Partners may then become ‘vessels of all the emotions felt towards a parent’ and this can lead to many arguments, misunderstandings, frustrations and annoyance. During therapy however, these feelings can slowly ‘turn’ and be projected onto the therapist instead, who is then able to help the client unravel each feeling so that it might be understood, mourned and then healed.
When a therapist sees a couple, the therapist also needs to distinguish between each partner’s projections and this can become complicated. But sometimes, the projections are shared. In other words, the emotions that a couple feel toward their parents can be the same. They may just not be felt together or in the same order, but felt nevertheless. Realising and understanding this, can lead a couple to a deeper intimacy because when we share certain feelings it allows us to feel understood and this creates a mutual rapport, an affection, and togetherness.
This process is important as it helps a couple see one another for who they truly are, as individuals – rather than a sort of extension of themselves or their parents.
But also, once this behaviour shifts, then usually it also results in less blame or expectations of the other partner. This happens as the projections get taken back as they are now longer required – as each individual takes responsibility for their own issues and feelings.
The client therapist relationship is therefore not the same as a normal relationship. The therapist is trained specifically, and will be working by using ‘their body, their emotions or what they may feel’ to mirror to the client what may be happening or indeed, what they may be feeling.
This is one of the important reasons why it isn’t good enough to just talk to a friend or even a family member. They will not be trained to fully understand this complex process.
3) Also, by the time the client is then seated, the therapist may already have begun to feel what the client/s may be feeling emotionally and whether they may be angry or sad.
If a therapist is sensitive, finely tuned and indeed especially aware, when a situation is being discussed, the therapist may also be able to pin point exactly where a particular emotion, relating to the incident discussed, sits in the client’s body. This process is known as body transference.
It is particularly hard for a therapist to achieve. It can only be achieved, if a therapist knows their own body incredibly well. This will enable a therapist to separate what is going on within themselves, versus what is going on within a client. This is important because often a client isn’t aware of their feelings let alone where they may reside, until it is pointed out, that is.
This is a great tool for every client to know:
We can sometimes dismiss the extent of our feelings if they are too painful. And many resort to intellectualising or only thinking though issues, because it can helps us manage the pain, or so we think. Although thinking through stuff isn’t altogether a bad idea, what we may be doing is neglecting the full scale of what we may be feeling. As a result these feelings get buried and hidden. And often they get hidden in our bodies and this can cause tightness, stress and pain.
This happens because we are never really taught to feel. We are taught only to think.
If however, a client can quieten the mind so that they can drop from the “thinking body into the feeling body”, their therapy can deepen. If they can become aware of their body and where their stress or tightness sits this often can allow help the release of stress and built up anxiety.
And also, if we don’t realise what we’re actually feeling, we could:
1) Get sick.
2) Force or find ourselves in situations that don’t suit us.
3) And if we’re unable to listen or feel our own emotions, we may be unable ‘to feel’ the emotions of those around us. This could affect our relationships, friendships and even colleagues.
4) Also, by the time the client is then seated, the therapist may already have begun to create the necessary boundaries that prevents a therapist from sharing their own issues with a client:
A therapist is trained to maintain good boundaries.
- a) The therapist should never share their own emotions or indeed they should never disclose what they ‘emotionally share’ with a client, as this would be highly inappropriate.
The focus needs to be exclusively on the client or the couple – and never on the therapist. If this were to ever happen, then it would seem that boundaries will have been overstepped. It would then be recommended that the therapist refer the client to another therapist. The point being, is that therapists are specifically trained to differentiate between their own and a client’s issues.
- b) Working with couples and all that it involves is never easy. Many therapists find this work too difficult. It takes certain observational skills and a specialised training to do work with two people effectively. And having good boundaries is crucially important in this kind of work. Being able to see various clients, one after the other, is an art and this depends on each therapist and how many clients they are able to see in one day without the issues of one client or couple, overlapping with the issues of others.
- c) Having good boundaries is particularly important when working with couples. This is particularly important when, for example, if any secrets are divulged about a partner when the other isn’t there. This can happen when if a partner is unable to attend the session and yet the other does attend. How this is handled will depend on the issues at hand, however usually this is not recommended as trust between therapist and both partners need to be retained at all times.
5) Also, by the time the client is then seated, the therapist may already have begun to hold a space for any client to feel respected and heard but also challenged if need be.
– It is extremely important that a therapist is able to create a space whereby clients can feel comfortable to share their inner and deepest worries or concerns.
– Clients also need to feel they can trust the therapist to guide them in the right direction so that over time they may begin to see progress with regards any issue they bring to therapy.
– A therapist also needs to maintain a certain focus throughout each session so that the time is not spent on ramblings that lead nowhere.
– Sometimes a therapist needs to challenge and nudge a client so that they don’t spend their time diffusing the issues or losing focus. If this occurs, it may become part of the therapy that needs to be addressed so that clients do not land up wasting their time or money.
– Also, a therapist needs to ensure that a client does not start relying on the sessions without doing any work of their own, otherwise sessions could go on and on, without much to show for it.
A therapist’s goal is to:
- Help anyone who feels or indeed, has been a victim, into an empowered human being able to understand the past and indeed, the present, so that they can make better choices to suit their life goals.
- Help anyone make sense of their past.
- Help anyone who is blocked and isn’t achieving their goals, to understand why.
- Help anyone make better personal or business choices.
Working with couples and watching and listening to two people’s issues is not always easy. Couple therapy involves two people, their parents, their relationship and also the couple’s relationship. Knowing how to weave between these areas takes a certain skill and many therapists find this work too difficult. And it takes certain observational skills and a specialised training to do this kind of work effectively.
It can however be extremely rewarding for all involved.
You can now find out more by reading Blog 116. Therapy Part G: Sex Therapy
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