Reparenting today

It is indeed unfortunate the controversy, legal and professional issues surrounding the Schiffs, the cathexis school and reparenting clouded other issues and points they made. If one can remove their Parent ego state for a while and have a clear Adult look at what they said one finds they made quite a profound statement on the understanding of psychotherapy.

Their book, “All my children” explains how Jacqui Schiff and others, took some of their clients into the home and had them live there like a family. This it seems safe to say is a radical thing to do and I am not aware of any other group doing such a thing and if there are, it is quite rare.

The concept of transference has been around since Freud highlighted it over 100 years ago. It has been widely discussed and it approaches the topic of the therapist being a parent figure and the client being a child like figure in the therapeutic relationship. However Jacqui Schiff being the person she is she took this to a more extreme level.

Indeed the word “Reparenting” is a most interesting one. It carries the notion that one can redo-parenting. We all have been children and we all have been parented by someone. The Schiffian idea of the word is that one can redo that parenting at a later time and it can be done in therapy. This is a profound idea. It is possible to have a second go at it in the therapeutic relationship. Just as there are biological parents and biological children they propose it is possible in the therapy relationship to redo that relationship between two adults, one being the client and one being the therapist. A profound statement about psychotherapy that it is possible to have a full (or nearly full) mother child relationship between therapist and client.

Dancers

It’s not just transference where the client will begin to see parts of the therapist as they saw their mother and father. Instead it is establishing a relationship that resembles the relationship between a biological mother and her biological child and then redoing that relationship.

This, as one can imagine, will have great appeal for some. It is a very seductive idea. Those from damaged backgrounds are told you can have a second go at it. They can think, “My first childhood was bad but now I can have a second childhood and that will solve my problems.” A very enticing notion for some. “I just have to redo it with a therapist and then I will be alright.”

Indeed the Schiffs are quite explicit about this:

“Reparenting is a method used in treatment of psychosis. It involves the total decathexis of the originally incorporated Parent ego state, and the replacement of that structure with a new parent structure”. (Cathexis Reader).

One sees diagrams like this

dectahected parent Jpeg

A profound statement about psychotherapy. They suggest it is possible to completely decathect one part of the personality and then replace it with a new part of the personality. This is a seductive idea that will have a great appeal to some. They can think, “In my first childhood I developed a Parent ego state that is full of all negative stuff. Now I can have a second childhood and replace that old Parent ego state with a new one that is full of all good stuff”. This will be an attractive idea for some.

I am not saying I agree with this, disagree with this, or agree with it in part. The point being made is to consider the impact of these ideas on the therapeutic relationship. It is quite a radical way of conceptualising the therapy relationship. Therapy can mimic the original child mother relationship and it is possible to completely dectahect the pathological material in the Parent ego state and it is possible to replace that decathected part with a new healthy part.

If one adopts these ideas it is going to have a significant impact on how therapy is perceived by client and therapist and how the therapeutic relationship plays out. Indeed the goals of therapy will be different to working with the transference, the transference neurosis or seeing the transference relationship as transformative for both client and therapist. If one can get beyond all the negativity about the Schiffs and begin to use these ideas in working with non psychotics they provide interesting treatment options and approaches. Powerful therapeutic methods can evolve out of such ‘different’ ways of viewing the therapeutic relationship.

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2 Responses to “Reparenting today”

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  1. Velveteen Rabbit says:

    Hello,
    I am new to your site and read this article with interest. I first heard of Schiff and her reparenting work via the old “Changes” magazine a few decades back. I had no experience with therapy (yet) and also, had not yet earned my two undergraduate degrees in social services.
    As a trauma survivor, there is something about this therapy that both scares and attracts me. It scares me due to the fear of not being in total control at all times and also the potential for embarrassment in submitting to some of the more regressive parts of therapy. As a social work major, it concerns me due to what seems like a higher potential risk of abuse and/or increased psychological harm to the client.
    However it STILL appeals to me because over the past few years I have become aware that I do have wounded and younger “parts” and at times have even had dreams of being nursed by a safe mommy figure. A freaky thing to even have a dream about much less admit here in writing!!
    I do think I would want to try this therapy if it still existed but that is not likely.
    Thanks for the article.

    • Tony White says:

      It seems to me Velveteen that you have articulated the various aspects of therapy well and the reactions clients can have to it. Therapy can be both scary and attractive for the reasons you cite. If one enters into a reparenting relationship or even a therapeutic relationship where the transference develops one looses some control as a form of dependency develops on the therapist. On the other hand that same dependency can have significant curative powers for the client.

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