“So how does that make you feel?” Clearly, it does not make you feel particularly great. Otherwise, there would be no way on earth that you would have thought about sacrificing £80 a week in order to speak to this man during a measly fifty-minute slot.
When we think about psychological therapies, more traditional ideas may come into mind, based on what we have seen in films and television series. There is a recliner chair; a bespectacled therapist frantically making notes in the corner; a box of tissues on a small coffee table between the two of you. And you are meant to speak about your childhood experiences; they are paid to listen to you; to nod, periodically, in agreement; to repeatedly ask you, “so how does that make you feel?”
I do think that having boundaries of professionalism is important: these rules and regulations ensure efficiency, quality of therapeutic care, as well as the protection of the safety of the patient. But I do not think that professionalism necessitates the extrication of a deep sense of compassion and humanity, as it too frequently seems to do nowadays.
The relationship between a psychotherapist and her patient is (typically) a unique one. Most men and women in the profession have suffered from psychological ailments such as depression and anxiety in the past; their own suffering and experiences have spurred them to undertake such a role. Almost undoubtedly, when these therapists look into their patients’ eyes, and hear of complaints of deep distress and a sense of hopelessness, they are reminded of a past version of themselves.
But look at them now. They have, presumably, healed, and they are now working towards the healing of others. Knowledge of this – of the fact that an individual’s therapist has been through very similar things to him or her, and they have made it out alive and well, would undoubtedly bring a profound sense of relief and hope to a patient. I do not think there is anything wrong with the fostering of a friendship between a paid professional and a client. One is paid; the other is therapeutically healed; the two could profoundly benefit from being ‘friends’ and from openly sharing their experiences with each other.
Human beings need compassion, kindness, and raw and unfiltered reassuring; communicative reciprocity. We do not need what the NHS, or indeed numerous private psychotherapeutic clinics, offer in terms of how things are done with utmost ‘professionalism’: clinical lighting, lab coats, the easy administration of pills, dispensing talk therapy as if it were just like any other medicine. In therapy, a human must come face-to-face with a fellow human. The client must feel seen and it would be useful for the two to be vocally bound in terms of points of similarity: the interactions should not be reduced to ‘paid professional and psychological illness on legs’, nor to ‘healer and sufferer’: the healer may well be an ex-sufferer, and the current sufferer a future healed/healer.
In therapy, other people’s experiences should be spoken of; laughter should be evoked; art should be created. Perhaps the client could even be given the chance to leave an ornament or photo-frame of theirs behind, in the therapist’s clinic. Much of the time, therapy focuses on the emotional repair of the ‘inner child’. But this inner child can not be accessed if the patient is forced to act like an entirely dignified adult: their childhood must be rekindled, somehow. Healing of this nature necessitates a great deal of comfort; feeling like one can entirely let down one’s securities and defences. A therapist should be a very realistic imitation of a friend; his or her clinic a realistic replica of a place the client may feel inclined to call ‘home’.
Sadia Ahmed, 2020