We looked at the story of Dong Shan and his enlightenment encounter with his teacher. We saw how
1. the teacher disrupted the attitude of the disciple and presented himself just as a human being, rather than advertising himself. In therapy the counsellor needs to have a humble attitude toward herself but also needs the boldness to avoid getting into a position of collusion with the client over matters that are not true.
2. the realisation came to the disciple later after he had thought about the interaction - in the same way if counselling is good the client goes on working on the issue afterwards; it is not a case of having everything tidied up before the end of the interview.
3. the teacher did not make things comfortable for the disciple. It is not a matter of just giving the client a comfortable experience.
4. nonetheless, the teacher shows great fellow-feeling with the disciple. He treats him as on a level, not talking down to him.
We discussed how one has a concern for the other but also a need to take care of oneself. However this seeming conflict is resolved by an over-arching motivation to investigate the truth of situations for self and other alike.
Loyalty to the truth transcends self and other.
This means achieving some objectivity about one’s own condition as well as that of the client.
We did some action work looking at family constellations. This gives a sense of how the balance of interpersonal influences affects a person’s life and feeling. It shows how literal and metaphorical distance makes a great deal of difference to one’s experience of wellbeing. In counselling the counsellor needs to get a sense of these patterns and how they affect the client and to know how to change them or experiment with them. Several of the scenarios developed into mini psychodramas.
We saw how therapy can go wrong
- when one is pressing for a “happy ending” and ignoring the truth
- when one is taking the side of a significant other rather than that of the client
- when one passes moral judgement upon the thoughts or actions of the client
If the client shares things that are important and intimate and the therapist pushes him to change them, implying that he is somehow “wrong”, the client will feel misunderstood and the work may be worse than useless. These things make the therapy environment unsafe.
We also saw how strong feelings can be induced by taking a role in another person’s scenario. This may be due to the particular sensitivity of the person taking the role, but it is very likely to be that they are picking up important influences in the scenario of the protagonist. This may give the protagonist important new information.
There is always an optimum distance between the subject and the rupa but this is seldom stable for long because it is also true for all the participants individually and as any one changes it has a knock on effect for all of the others.
We reflected on the phrase
“fancy words are rupa - lead straight into the dirt”
This can be taken as a warning not to use overly sophisticated language in order to show off, and this will be the original meaning, but as counsellors we can reflect that we need to get straight into the dirt. In order to help the client we need to reach the “dirt” as quickly as possible and this will be affected by the language we choose.
Some language reduces the “distance” to the material and other styles increase the distance. We can think of the example of reading a bedtime story to a child. The pitch or distancing of the language and mode of expression needs to be such as to hold the child’s attention without scaring him. If the language is too flat the child will be bored. If it is too expressive the child may have nightmares. Similarly in counselling. If we choose language that is graphic, in the present tense, with concrete examples and reference, this will reduce the distance. If we talk in an abstract, intellectual way, in the past tense, in vague language, this will increase the distance. Depending upon the case, one might sometimes need to increase distance, sometimes reduce it. A client who has experienced major trauma, for instance, might be in an under-distanced condition, reliving the experience with a vividness and urgency that disrupts his life. However, the majority of clients are more likely to be in an over-distanced condition and need to get closer to their material in order to deal with it. In this latter case, the therapist’s language should be no less graphic than that of the client and perhaps more so. This will not only help the client to enter more fully into the issue, it will also help the therapist to warm herself up to the client’s condition.
We had a brief look at the theory of congruent and dissonant social triangles and saw how even in a moderately complex social situation such s a family, dissonance starting in one part of the system can be rapidly transmitted to other parts. This can leave people in those remote parts of the system discomforted but having no insight into how or why. Thus a client might come into therapy aware that something has changed in his life, but with no real possibility of understanding the root of the problem which lies elsewhere in the social system. Occasionally the therapist may be able to help trace the source, but on other occasions one has simply to help the client to reach a point of acceptance and avoid taking responsibility for, or feeling guilty about, things over which he had no control.