Thoughts on Transference
Being a psychotherapist doesn’t make one immune to the descents into the dark side of one’s being. Doctors get sick and priests have crises of faith. So it is for therapists who wrestle with the demons of the psyche. Much of the issues that come from crises of faith and descents into the darkness of the psyche have to do with transference. Listening to, being attuned to, engaging with, and simply being with parishioners and clients-patients activates something in both parties.
As the professional opens doors, the contents of those they work with often serve as triggers and at times find themselves hooking into the psych of the professional. For a while, the priest becomes the father, the god-like being he stands in place of as mediator. The same is true for therapists who become either father or mother, again becoming a saviour, god-like for their patients. The professional holds the contents as if they are sacred (which they indeed are) taking some of the weight from their parishioners and patients. Taking the weight, they allow space for breathing and with that breathing, an opportunity to find some healthy release and with that release, an opportunity to heal.
But there is a cost to the therapist and to the priest – that cost must be paid. There is a need for the healers to find someone to whom they can turn to work through their personal stuff that get activated in holding and dealing with the stuff of their parishioners and patients. I have found myself bending almost too far and so needed to find the resources that I needed to recharge my batteries. But in the space in between holding too much and release from that too much, I have my own crisis of faith, of psyche, of self. The healer must take his or her turn at being healed again, and again, and again. To be a good priest in being able to handle the crises of his parishioners, the priest must have lived and survived his own crises – only then can he be in tune with and thus serve as a healer. The same is true for a therapist – in order to heal, one must have been broken and then gone through the process of being healed.
In today’s professional world of psychotherapy there is no guarantee that the therapist has been there and done that. The only guarantee (usually) is that the therapist has attended classes and achieved certification. The have learned well from books and have practised using the appropriate skills. And as consumers of therapy, there is a tendency to look at the certificates and hope for the best. Who would trust an older man or woman without the certificate?
In my career as a school principal at various schools, I found that some of my best staff, being able to work with students and help them learn, to relate, to connect – were not trained teachers. Some were parent volunteers, some were trained to assist with special needs students (or at least be willing to work with these students as an aid). Some of the worst people I have had in my schools had good education, high marks on their transcripts, and had attended very reputable colleges of education at high calibre universities. I learned as a principal that needed to look beyond the certificate and find the person standing behind the certificate.
As a therapist in need, I, like my clients, need to find someone to trust so that I may work in a safe containing relationship to heal myself. It isn’t enough just to download onto a different healer, to transfer my stuff onto a guru or analyst or bishop or . . . There is an apt expression that comes to mind – “Physician heal thyself” –
“The phrase alludes to the readiness and ability of physicians to heal sickness in others while sometimes not being able or willing to heal themselves. This suggests something of ‘the cobbler always wears the worst shoes’, i.e. cobblers are too poor and busy to attend to their own footwear. It also suggests that physicians, while often being able to help the sick, cannot always do so and, when sick themselves, are no better placed than anyone else.” [The Phrase Finder]