the therapist as a person – pt 3

this is a continuation from the entry of february 27, about the inner lives of therapists, and some of their motivations and personal styles:

What follows are four short vignettes of roles therapists might take on as a result of these (usually unexamined) personal and social influences. These vignettes I have compiled from a rather arbitrarily assembled body of literature, where some instances of the influence of the personal were either discussed by various writers or which I have observed in therapists (including myself during four years of counselling and group facilitation). All vignettes have eight components: The name of the role; a few brief examples of the therapist’s interventions typical for that role; some personal reasons why the therapist might choose these interventions; the type of client these interventions might be useful for; the dangers inherent in the role; theories that endorse or condemn such interventions; and, finally, the types of environments these roles and interventions might fit into.

Following each vignette will be a brief discussion of some of the elements of the role and interventions discussed. A caveat: because of their brevity, the vignettes are almost caricatures – it goes without saying that the “real-life” therapist will feel and behave in a much more complex way, that she does not always take on that role, and that more likely than not, she will play more than one role with a particular client, even within a particular session. Also, my discussion is informed mostly by North American psychotherapy; some of the points I make, especially about social context, may not entirely apply to therapists outside this geographical area.

The Good Parent

What she does: Is supportive of client at all costs; often colludes with client against uncovering neuroses; does not confront

Why she does it: Has a need to “kiss and make it better”, perhaps because her parents did not do that for her; shies away from looking at her own neuroses; is afraid of confrontation

Useful for: Clients who are unable to trust other therapists

Dangers: May turn against client if “rejected”; her shadow is unchecked

Model: The Ideal Mother

Theories: Explicitly scorned by Singer (a psychoanalyst), Kopp (a Jungian), Corey (eclectic); conceivably more likely to happen among Rogerians and some feminist therapists

Examples of environmental fit: Where preservation of status quo is important; some church-affiliated institutions; some women’s centers

While the above-mentioned theories explicitly scorn this type, the Good Parent is a very common trap for therapists of any stripe – after all, the desire to help, to ease suffering, is the stated goal of the majority of those entering the helping professions. Also, the warmth and caring which are typical of the Good Parent are seen by many as indispensable qualities in therapists. It is a very short step from the desire help and feelings of warmth and caring to becoming overly solicitous and somewhat possessive, especially when driven by the needs described above.

The Good Parent is also a societal ideal – it is a mother-ideal: all-giving and all-forgiving, nurturing, supporting. Therefore, while therapeutic theories generally slight the Good Parent, there is not much opposition against her from other parts of society. But if the Good Parent is like the Jungian Great Mother archetype, it also incorporates its dangers: for example, the solicitousness can become suffocating (perhaps when well-meaning advice is not taken). The Good Parent may also have a tendency never to refuse to take on a client, no matter how difficult – only to end up “getting rid of patients unwittingly … by unacknowledgedly evil ploys aimed ostensibly at helping the patient”. Indeed, Singer calls the “urge to appear angelic … one of the most dangerous compulsions”.

stay tuned for the next vignette, about “the irreproachable professional”. (or you can read the whole paper here).

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

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