I’ve been reflecting this week on the nature of psychotherapy and what makes it magical. Like any psychotherapist, I have days when my work flows and feels effortless, and days when it is harder to find the rhythm and connection that mean I deliver at my best.
Bill O’Hanlan puts the difference really powerfully. He says that therapy is about contact. He goes on to clarify that he means therapy works well when the client is in contact with themselves, and in contact with their environment. I agree, and add to that that as therapy is about contact it is also about the therapist being in contact with themselves, and with their environment.
When both client and therapist are in this kind of relational contact, therapy becomes a very special relational field, where our two systems, grounded and generative, can in combination bring the ingredients needed to heal the client’s experience of life.
So what does contact mean? To me, it’s a reference to whether we are fully associated into our own experience. Are we experiencing life through our five senses? Can we feel the sensations in our body, and at the same time make sense of them in our minds? Can we sense the difference between what is present here and now, and what is of another time or place? Are we aware of our own thinking, and its impact on us?
Stephen Gilligan talks about sponsoring our cognitive selves, that is coming to know, respect and hold tenderly all the parts of our sense making and thinking, knowing that they in their own way aim to help us. He also talks about grounding our bodily or somatic selves, finding the presence to contain and be with what it is that passes through our body, however intense. As we do these things simultaneously, we become available for contact, we are in contact in ourselves, and we can reach out to contact others.
Psychotherapy is a place we can explore our ability to contact both our own self, and the other. Therapy is a place where we can be given space, we can gradually work towards full contact, we can first learn what we can tolerate now, and then build the capacity to tolerate increasing levels of intimacy relationally. It may be that a client literally begins half in and out of the room, and in their own time is able to come closer, the important thing is to start wherever they are. We can explore the many relational fields of which we are a part, and discover how we experience them and how they impact us, and we can grow our flexibility and choice about this.
If relating to yourself and/or to others is tricky for you, get in touch to explore how psychotherapy might help.