the therapist as a person – pt 4

this is a long overdue continuation from a post in march, about the therapist as a person. here is another vignette, or really almost a caricature, of the kind of role that a therapist can fall into – with all the positive and not-so-positive consequences.

The Irreproachable Professional

What she does: Is very mindful to adhere to theoretical, ethical and other guidelines given by leaders in the field, associations, etc.; does not share or shares only minimally with the client personal matters and countertransference issues; models and teaches objectivity and rationality

Why she does it: Has a need for the security, status and power that comes with being a professional (because of own insecurities, anxieties, etc.); believes, consciously or unconsciously, that vested authority is needed to effect change in the client; believes she has acquired and now owns knowledge about human attitudes and behaviour

Useful for: Clients who change only or believe they can change only under pressure from or with the help of authority

Dangers: Difficult or impossible to establish a true connection with client; inattentive or pays only lip service to her fallibility

Model: The Priest; The Just Father

Theories: Prescribed by classical psychoanalysis (Singer, p.126); implicit in rational-emotive theory (Corey, p.216); condemned by Rogers (Pietrofesa et al., 1971, p.132); chided by approaches influenced by Eastern Religion (e.g. Dass, 1985, p.21)

Environmental fit: Psychiatry; prisons; some social work milieux (e.g. Brandon, 1976)

When some of the more negative aspects of this role are blotted out (or presented in a more favourable light), it seems to me that The Irreproachable Professional is the official picture of the therapist presented to the public.

The Irreproachable Professional behaves in a politically correct manner, is above sexual, aggressive or otherwise “inappropriate” feelings (or worse, acts) towards clients, is trained to approach everything objectively and rationally, and, above all, is an “expert” on things psychological.

The terms “inappropriate” and “appropriate” are important instruments of The Irreproachable Professional; like erstwhile the priest, The Irreproachable Professional often uses them to designate who goes to heaven (i.e. remains in the fold of “normal” society, moves up the status latter, etc.) or to hell (i.e. is sent to mental hospitals, has their children taken away, etc.).

Just like The Good Parent [discussed in the previous post], The Irreproachable Professional often upholds the status quo, since that is the sociopolitical context in which professional associations, the academic teaching framework and other background structures are found which are necessary for any occupation officially labelled “profession”.

The symbiosis between The Irreproachable Professional and established power explains is another reason why I have used as model the figure of the priest. Guggenbuehl-Craig (p.129) points out the loneliness inherent in having too high of an investment in being The Irreproachable Professional.

When clients attempt to reach beyond the professional mask, the therapist reacts defensively and interprets these attempts as problematic issues residing within the client.

The Irreproachable Professional cannot bear to be called into question. Robertiello & Schoenewolf see essentially the same problem; however, unlike Guggenbuehl-Craig, who thinks that open, honest friendships and intimate and familial relationships constitute such a therapist’s saving grace (p.135, p.149),

Robertiello & Schoenewolf maintain that continuous supervision is the answer: “Doing therapy without extensive or deep analysis [i.e., supervision] is comparable to doing surgery with a dull spoon.” (p.290)

This advice is true also for The Good Parent. Perhaps here we have two opposite yet complementary roles: The Irreproachable Professional would then be the strict, just, aloof father, and The Good Parent the gentle mother, an interminable fountain of unconditional love.

for the rest of this paper, go here.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

4 thoughts on “the therapist as a person – pt 4

  1. Pingback: the therapist as a person - pt 3 » change therapy - isabella mori

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  3. Robert Persson

    We live in an intensely authoritarian society governed by fear. Way too many therapists are so afraid that if they don’t maintain a professional distance from their clients that someone will sit on their heads that they will take this to extremes such as pretending not to notice their clients when they pass them in the street (which is what depressed people often like to do of course).

    On a different note, I read an academic paper a few months ago on the incorporeal performance of academia. Basically the day to day work of academics involves a denial of the body. For instance sitting still in lecture theatres with the windows shut so you won’t be distracted by a breeze, striving for the ideal of unemotional rationality. It’s really just another version of Christian idealism.

    In this light it is interesting to consider how the “elevation” of medicine to an academic discipline was a very political project involving the discrediting of traditional healers by having them tried and burned as witches. “Witches” were charicatured as diabolically lewd and oversexed. So the burning witches could be thought of as effigies of the longings their persecutors experienced in their own bodies.

    I read recently of a scientist whose experiments involved hanging a monkey upside down in a state of profound sensory deprivation for months on end. This is the extreme of how medicine and psychiatry relate to the body.

  4. Robert Persson

    We live in an intensely authoritarian society governed by fear. Way too many therapists are so afraid that if they don’t maintain a professional distance from their clients that someone will sit on their heads that they will take this to extremes such as pretending not to notice their clients when they pass them in the street (which is what depressed people often like to do of course).

    On a different note, I read an academic paper a few months ago on the incorporeal performance of academia. Basically the day to day work of academics involves a denial of the body. For instance sitting still in lecture theatres with the windows shut so you won’t be distracted by a breeze, striving for the ideal of unemotional rationality. It’s really just another version of Christian idealism.

    In this light it is interesting to consider how the “elevation” of medicine to an academic discipline was a very political project involving the discrediting of traditional healers by having them tried and burned as witches. “Witches” were charicatured as diabolically lewd and oversexed. So the burning witches could be thought of as effigies of the longings their persecutors experienced in their own bodies.

    I read recently of a scientist whose experiments involved hanging a monkey upside down in a state of profound sensory deprivation for months on end. This is the extreme of how medicine and psychiatry relate to the body.

  5. Pingback: our bodies, our environment » change therapy - isabella mori

  6. Pingback: our bodies, our environment » change therapy - isabella mori

  7. Alan Stivers

    One thing that has helped me in therapy is learning how to open up and appreciate the care the therapist is taking and the benefit of the many years of the therapist’s work and experience. I find this to be very calming. Therapy is often close and personal to me. Maybe I’m encroaching on professional detachment, but that experience and care are realities. I probably should recognize them more in my everyday contacts.
    I never understood why professional societies hold the Irreproachable Professional as the ethical model. I suppose a very restrictive relationship is the easiest model to use to model a code of ethics. It just doesn’t match with the way I think people work, sort of like priestly celibacy. A little feeling can go a long way. Life is short.

  8. Alan Stivers

    One thing that has helped me in therapy is learning how to open up and appreciate the care the therapist is taking and the benefit of the many years of the therapist’s work and experience. I find this to be very calming. Therapy is often close and personal to me. Maybe I’m encroaching on professional detachment, but that experience and care are realities. I probably should recognize them more in my everyday contacts.
    I never understood why professional societies hold the Irreproachable Professional as the ethical model. I suppose a very restrictive relationship is the easiest model to use to model a code of ethics. It just doesn’t match with the way I think people work, sort of like priestly celibacy. A little feeling can go a long way. Life is short.

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