Employed, as I am as a counsellor, I have been fascinated over the years about the ways people in various professions chose to attack one another. I’ve learned that each profession has it’s own unique form of attack. I’ve heard how it operates within the teaching profession. In the building trade, the attack tends to be direct, quick and brutal. I’ve seen many people who work in local government and attacks in that arena are myriad but usually have a politically correct blade with which to inflict the wounding.
It is with a muted fanfare that I can declare that after 14 years of counselling, that the best attacks, the most lethal and laser like, happen in the world of therapy. This large body of research hasn’t been gathered by myself as a passive, fascinated spectator; there have been many times over the years when I’ve been on the receiving end of a right old person centred kicking. As a former Mod and a football supporter from the 1970s, I have some experience of what a right old kicking feels like but a person centred kicking, is an entirely different form of combat and trust me, is infinately more lethal.
As a man in a predominantly female dominated profession, I had to learn pretty quickly that an attack would normally take the form of “testicle removal” – that strange experience where one minute you are feeling completely intact and then all of a sudden, you become acutely aware that your balls have disappeared – “It’s the weirdest thing Gordon – I’m sure they were there when I walked into my Jungian encounter group”.
This is how it works:
You’re sitting in your supervision group, congruently describing how you’re helping your client feel less of a doormat in his marriage. You start to become aware of an awkward tension distilling around the room. It has a vague sense of being hostile. You explain how you have introduced your client t0 the idea of the “drama triangle” – that old therapy staple that illuminates relationship dynamics by identifying who plays the victim, the persecutor and the rescuer. You announce proudly that your client had decided to break the triangle by electing to go out for a drink with his mates last Sunday rather than participate in the usual sabbath ritual of lunch with the wife’s family. It is the first time in 16 years that he has broken this pattern. Concious of the building tension, you decide to ignore your supervisor’s observation (“Oh – he’s been a naughty boy hasn’t he”) and plough on by asking for some feedback on how to work with the client now that he has decided to leave his wife.
The resultant attack comes in three stages:
BAM: Your supervisor decides to wonder aloud – “Was the introduction of the drama triangle an appropriate and ethical intervention at that point in the client’s process?” “Could his decision to leave his wife have arisen from…..possibly….a possible narcisitic personality disorder?” And of course, “He doesn’t like women very much does he?”. I try to point out that all his female relationships seem pretty sound to me – it’s just his wife he doesn’t like very much.” I’m tempted to use the word “misogony” but realise that I could be digging myself a very big hole. It doesn’t matter anyway, the scalpel is already out and my bollocks have started to tremble.
WALLOP: “I wonder if the rest of the group has any observations….” This is the Carl Rogers equivalent of the leader of the Inner City firm, standing aside and letting some of the minions take a pot shot. I can see how tricky this is for my peers. They like me but they don’t want to lose some brownie points. “Have you encouraged your client to consider the relationship from his partner’s perspective?” is one of the suggestions. Ten minutes pass as my colleague stutters through a story about one of her clients who after weighing up all the pros and cons of his marriage (as prompted by the counsellor) decided to forego his twice weekly gym sessions and engage in some quality time with his girlfriend at her tai-chi class instead. Throughout this narrative, the supervisor nods enthusiastically and concludes with: “What a lovely piece of work”. I haven’t spoken for twenty five minutes.
KAPOW: By now, I have slid down in my chair and have drifted off into listing my ten favourite songs by The Jam. My client notes have long since been clamped shut in their lever arch file. “I sense you’re feeling angry Mark?” There is no sensing needed; my balls are hanging by a thread and I swear, everyone in the room is aware of my predicament. “Do you want to explore your anger with the group?” NO I FUCKING DON’T. But I don’t say that of course – the job has been done. In a few brief but devastating exchanges, I have become their client. I have reacted badly to the empathic interventions and only by sharing and exploring my humiliation with the group, will my sense of self be restored. The head of the Inner City firm is handing me his pocket for my tears.
You have to admit – it’s brilliant. It’s the most formidable form of attack I’ve ever encountered. And the fact that it happens in the enabling, authentic world of counselling makes it even more brilliant.