Social Identity and the Therapeutic Relationship
This years’ IARTA conference theme was psychotherapy as a political project. The conference took place at NCVO in a room overlooking a canal with colourful boats gently bobbing in the water. There was great coffee, a proper feast at lunchtime and plenty of opportunity to reconnect with old friends and make some new ones.
Judy responds to questions
The first keynote lecture of the day was from Judy Yellin. Yellin, a lawyer, psychotherapist and a feminist thinker started from the question: What is the project of psychotherapy? Judy persuaded us that psychotherapy is a political project of liberation from internalized coercive systems. Therapists, Yellin believes, act as representatives of a new order. Successful therapy is achieving freedom from authoritarian internal working models.
The therapist's discourse becomes an interpolation - an interruption of the prevailing internal injurious discourse a forceful stance against the totalitarianism of the internal structure of false beliefs and self-attributions handed down from parents.
Interpolation comes from the latin words "inter"- between and "polare" - to drive away, to bang on the door. The operation of interpolation aims to go one step beyond empathy. The therapist becomes an invested agent, a participant with an agenda and not simply a self-object or mirror.
What was striking about Judy’s presentation was her willingness to share with us her own struggle for freedom and the therapeutic work with client with a severe presentation: Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder. It was very moving to see the passion and dedication that pervades her work, her commitment and willingness to go all out for her client.
Heather Fowlie who facilitated the day, talking with Lennox
Lennox talked about working with clients who are traditionally seen as unsuitable for the psychoanalytic project. He presented the case of a client whom he believes is on the high-functioning autistic spectrum (Asperger’s). Lennox described himself as an un-orthodox psychoanalyst, in that he doesn’t believe in the supremacy of the analytic interpretation. He is interested in allowing the clients to make their own interpretations.
Lennox believes that the therapist’s behaviour and way of being is far more significant as it reflects his/her attitude towards the client. As far as Lennox is concerned, the idea of the therapist as a blank screen is absurd – or as he put it quite humorously – “So last year!”. The therapist cannot avoid being known by the client, as there are too many clues (race, dress, aesthetic choices, manner of speech) that are readily available for the client to take in and interpret.
Lennox spoke with considerable charm, wit and warmth and provoked us to go beyond the default “you are a victim” narrative when working with race. Lennox has promised to donate his essay to be made available on the “Resources” page of the IARTA website.
As is the now established tradition, after each lecture we retreated in small groups to “digest” the presented material. We realized that many of us had been attracted to this conference theme because or our own hidden or obvious differences.
The final discussion
Judy and Lennox at the final plenary
At the end of the day the audience had a final opportunity to have a dialogue with Lennox and Judy. The consensus was that working with difference leads us into an uncertain and even dangerous territory. It feels risky. Lennox suggested that it can be done in a gentle, sensitive manner, after all one can tackle an avalanche a spoonful at a time. The ability to play and to remain congruent is essential if we want to relate to our clients with integrity.
Silvia Baba Neal www.silviababaneal-psychotherapy.co.uk
IARTA thanks Heidi Amey and Carol Faulkner for their invaluable help in organising the conference and are delighted to welcome them as permanent members of the Conference and Events Committee
Heidi and Carol after a successful conference