Why therapeutic change happens when clients and therapists meet
by Fe Robinson
I've had some powerful reminders of late of the connected nature of psychotherapy. That is, I've been strongly reminded that the healing doesn't happen solely in the client, nor is it me alone accountable for it, change happens in the space and dynamic that includes both me and my client.
Stephen Gilligan refers to this as the energy of the relational field created by us being in relationship together, explaining that it can be generative and therefore provoke lasting change. This relational mind is present whenever we connect beyond ourselves, be this in community, nature, love, spirituality, or in therapy.
So how does this relational field show up? When we are in touch with our bodily, unconscious, instinctive knowing at the same time as our cognitive, reasoned intellect, a relationship arises encompassing both, we are in relationship with ourself. When this happens in the context of us being in a relationship, we are also able to resonate with each other, and shared experience emerges in the space between us.
In therapeutic terms, this sometimes shows up through metaphor. A therapist may have a metaphorical experience that offers something to the client's experiencing, or gives some insight into what is occuring. For example, while a client was explaining the features of a spiky, difficult part of himself that he wanted relief from, a therapist had imagery of a hedgehog curled up in protection, afraid and anxious. Sharing this enabled the client to soothe and befriend the wounded part and find an integration, resolving the symptom that had brought the exploration into awareness.
In another example of this intuitive sensing, a colleague kept getting internal images of Pinnochio while a client was speaking. When she offered this gently it became apparent that the client was not being truthful; their experience of this this was then available to be explored and worked with.
Another way the relational field impacts in psychotherapy is in body sensations. It can be fruitful to inquire about a client's experience if a strong somatic experience is coming up repeatedly for the therapist, it is often mirrored in the client and bringing it into awareness can open up new discoveries.
Relational field awareness is a subtle, intuitive thing. It calls for deep rapport and resonance, and a trusting of the wisdom of intuition and body sensation, as well as a connectedness to intellect. It calls for psychotherapists to be comfortable with not knowing, and with being wrong. It invites us to offer tentatively and lightly our experiences in relationship with the client, with the knowledge that the prime person making meaning and integrating learning is our client, not us.
I like the metaphor of being a tuning fork, allowing a client to use my resonance to find their own perfect pitch. I do not tune them, they tune themselves, so long as I am free to resonate, and stay open to the unique melodies they wish to create.
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