Psychotherapy is an odd business at times. I had someone say to me the other day.
“When I phone you for an appointment I usually feel quite anxious and despairing. As soon as I have made the appointment it all goes away and I feel fine. Then I think I don’t need to go and see you.”
This is a woman whom I have known for 25 years. She usually comes and sees me regularly for a while and then I don’t see her again and that can be for a few years. Or she may come once a month for a number of years.
She says it is quite noticeable. Once the appointment is set and she has the time and the day most of the anxiety just stops and she feels much better. When the appointment is written down in her diary and she looks at it, the anxiety stops.
I asked her what she gets from seeing me and she said, “Safety”.
What are you supposed to do? If she then cancels the appointment of course the anxiety and despair come back. So we end up in a counselling situation where she comes to the appointment and there is no problem to deal with. Or at least the problem anxiety and despair are no longer there and that is her main motivation to make the appointment in the first place
In essence it has been a reparenting situation. From a very damaged back ground with a third degree impasse and the like. I have used for a long time Winnicott’s concept of the holding environment and I find clients can relate to it and what it means. She was simply too damaged to have only the therapy techniques one can employ. She used the therapeutic relationship as the means to her health, even if I hadn’t mentioned it she still would have used it. I also use what I call relational contact which in essence is Free Child to Free Child transactions between her and myself. Not in terms of jumping up and down and having fun but more in telling each other our feeling reactions to the other and that is transformative to the relationship between us (hence my use of the term relational). This of course makes it a significant departure from what is usually seen as a reparenting approach.
But now we find our selves in this odd situation.