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Tag Archives: therapeutic relationship

Your silence speaks volumes.

I have always been perceptive to body language and facial expressions, but never more so since my training in Transactional Analysis. Sometimes I wish I could return to the days when I could turn away and ignore what I see and find ways to defend against it. Those days are long gone.

As part of working with a client, I need to see these silences and nuances and address them. When having a dialogue, noticing what the client is doing with their hands, their body or the thoughtful quiet looks is important. Also noticing the facial expression as the retort, response or statement is shut off, and suppressed rather than expressed.

Now that’s absolutely fine in a therapeutic relationship, where the client has contracted with my to work through some issues and is paying me to do my job. I can take the risks and gently confront the silences, the discomfort and weed out what is happening. Once that’s done we can talk about what is real and unpick the reasons the client chose to suppress rather than express.

Now, in my relationships and friendships, the contract is different. In my immediate relationship it’s not an issue since my partner is receptive to questions about what’s real and not, and in order for our relationship to thrive, we will confront the discomfort to move on. But what about friendships. What about when you “know” that a friend is not being real with you and is holding back, suppressing their feelings around a subject.

Our ongoing problems with he who shall not be named (HWSNBN) is about to come to a head. We have known for several years now that it is not “us” and we have the support of our neighbours and friends. For a while we wondered whether it was a cultural problem, and now we know it’s not. It feels good to know we’re okay. However, on just one front, it’s patently obvious someone is judging us and coming out on the side of HWSNBN. One question the other day and then a silence that spoke volumes has left me with rather a sour taste in my mouth.

If my friend were a client, and we had a mutual contract, I wouldn’t have hesitated at the time to address the issue. However, my friend is not a client and me challenging the interaction puts the friendship at risk, and actually I can see would enter me into a Game. I have entered into Games frequently with this friend, picking up the gauntlets laid at my feet and the irresistible urge to pick them up overcoming me. I made a decision a few weeks ago to leave the gauntlets on the ground. So my dilemma now is, by not stating my case and expressing my need to be judged okay, I am still in the Game (effing Game I wanted to say). So, am I sitting here on the fucking Drama Triangle like a Victim?
I can see from my language I am now feeling angrier than when I first started writing. How do I address this without entering into yet another bloody Game which doesn’t change the outcome. My friend has been fixed for some time in the belief that we should roll over and be bullied.

Kathy hanging on to sanity and all that is good.


Boundaries in a therapeutic relationship.

I have been spending time today, and at other times over the last 12 years, thinking about a client of mine back in the 90’s. I have no idea why today, but she is someone I think about, wonder about every now and then. Now I am no longer working, and therefore have no need for supervision/therapy, I cannot really work this through with someone. It would have been nice to although not desperately important. I realised that this could be a place for me to do that, since you don’t really know me, and she can remain an anonymous client. Just to add to that, I shall change a few facts to maintain her anonymity.

She was/is (I don’t know whether she is still alive) an intelligent woman of my age, with children the same age as mine. She had a long, long history with psychiatric services, and a long history of sexual abuse. We, after her initial reluctance to engage with any health professional (due to abuse in some of those relationships) had a very good rapport. Sometimes our sessions would be about her current issues (she could turn up in a very regressed state) and sometimes they were about religion, or other things that were important to her. She disclosed a vast amount of stuff to me over the years, much of it harrowing to be hearing. Sometimes in her regressed states, she would see me as her abusive mother or one of the health professionals who’d abused her (negative transference), these were difficult sessions. As well as our individual sessions, she was a member of a closed group I facilitated. The group was populated with several other survivors of sexual abuse, so was really helpful for them, yet a tough group to facilitate.

About 18 months before my partner and I moved away, my clients 20 year old daughter committed suicide. She had also been a psychiatric patient for several years, and had overdosed many times quite likely a cry for help every time, but this time she didn’t survive. As a team we were all shocked and saddened, as Jules had been a patient at our place of work too. My next appointment with her mother was the most harrowing I have ever experienced. She knelt at my knees for most of the 50 mins, sobbing and clasping my hands. Of course there were many more very sad and harrowing sessions, but I particularly remember this one.

Some people use the word privileged when describing sharing such an intimate encounter with someone. I’m not sure that word fits here, but I know that I was so pleased that our relationship was such that she could do this and I could just sit with her, not needing to intervene, not needing her to stop what she needed to do. In fact, I don’t think I felt impotent in that moment, even though I couldn’t do anything to bring back her daughter. I will never forget it, and I never forget her.

The complication of a therapeutic relationship is you can never be your client’s friend. When your work with them finishes, so does the relationship. And, if you’re a good and boundaried psychotherapist that means forever. This is often a tough part for the client, the letting go and the ending. Of course, it can be tough for the psychotherapist too and sometimes it can be a relief. I know my client was a very a ill woman, and I know that to carry on a friendship/relationship with her would be inappropriate and fraught with massive issues. However, I miss our discussions, our chats, and explorations of her religion and my agnosticism. Hell, I can’t even tell her this, can’t tell her I miss her, or now and again ask her how she is. It’s frustrating…..and that is the boundary.
I just have to hope that she has found some peace and that her life is better than it was when our paths ran alongside each other for a while. There is a saying I’ve seen recently about people leaving footprints in your heart. She did.

Close the gate quietly, it’s late.

Kathy the sane.