Building a Container of Therapeutic Relationship
For those following my latest version of “journey,” today was my first session in a return to analysis. Of course I will not talk about the content of any analytical session as what happens in any session involves both the analyst and the analysand. The session happens in a container that I can best describe as being a sacred and safe container – temenos. But I will speak about what I learn from the process and about feelings so that anyone reading this will have some sense of the value as well as the process.
Before I begin, I want to be clear with you as to why I have re-entered analysis. The truth is, what I was doing stopped working for me. I was in analysis almost fifteen years ago following the suicide of one of my brothers, an event that acted as a trigger or catalyst for stuff I had long repressed, bits and pieces of my life I had forgotten about as I went about my life as a husband, father, teacher, and coach. My life back then began to come apart at the seams and I found myself entertaining suicidal thoughts in an attempt to escape the flood of images and memories. Those images and memories revealed a lot of childhood abuse which included an incident of being sexually abused as a teenager, several incidences of physical abuse, and a fair bit of emotional/mental abuse. It seemed like a lot to deal with but after a semester off from teaching, I was able to return to teaching with a decent level of balance.
With the death of my mother last fall, the floodgates opened further revealing significantly more incidences of sexual abuse, from different people beginning somewhere around the age of six or seven. Some of the sexual abuse happened over an extended period of time. Overwhelmed, I decided to return to analysis in order to deal with all the memories that were presenting themselves in a way which would allow me to avoid becoming a victim of the memories. The work of analysis isn’t about erasing the abuse, it is about responding to the knowledge of the abuse in a way that allows one to grow passed the abuse, becoming stronger in the process.
As I engaged in this morning’s analytical session I was surprised by the process. I have counselled as a therapist for a long time and I have been through the process of being counselled, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. Regardless of whether one has been counselled in the past, each time one enters into a new counselling (therapeutic) relationship, some basic work needs to take place, work that is about getting information flowing in both directions. You have to do all the foundational work before heading into the work of analysis (depth psychology). I had already skipped this part in my mind since this was a not a new process as a person being counselled or as counsellor; I was skipping the foundational work assuming that I would be diving head first off the 10 metre diving board as soon as the first session started. When my analyst then began with the beginning I was surprised, and relieved. My guide knew what he was doing and I began to relax and become more present in the moment.
I want to bring something here that I hope will be of some use – in the days and hours leading up to this first session, I was worried by quite a few things: Would the analyst want to continue working with me? Would I give him the right answers to his questions? Will I become silent and hide my words because of my shame? Will the analyst think less of me because of what he hears? These questions and more tortured me and sleep was hard to come by and never long enough to be actually restful. My body was in revolt and every part of me began to ache. Of course, all of this was in my head and had nothing to do with the reality of being in an analytical session.
As a therapist, it was good for me to re-experience the angst of a person entering into therapy so as remind me of what each of the people who begin their work with me would be experiencing. That knowledge allows the therapist to effectively create the therapeutic container that will keep both the therapist and the client safe. Doing the work of building that container is a joint effort that grows out of the initial dialogues between the analysand and the analyst. And now, looking back at this morning’s session, I see that our beginning work has done just exactly that. And so, I find myself relieved that I have chosen my guide wisely and have good hopes for the analytical journey that has just begun.