The dance of therapy

Butterfly by Tommok at Flickr

Butterfly by Tommok at Flickr

I took the plunge and went for a session of therapy with a new therapist yesterday. The first session was a bit like a first date. I made sure I looked good and arrived on time, was pleasantly surprised that my “date” was well turned-out and that his room had a comfortable (red) couch and a laidback seriousness about it. I filled in a form, he asked me if I wanted a drink (water thanks) and then we were off. I’m always amazed at how much ground can be covered in 50 minutes.

Afterwards I thought it went well and had no hesitation in asking for a second date (even though it’s not exactly cheap). He had to check his diary and then agreed. He said something about discussing the terms of meeting. That makes it sound like negotiations, which I suppose is what the initial sessions are. There’s an assessment and then a negotiation of terms. A weighing-up on both sides and then an agreement to a controlled dance.

I was surprised at the stuff that came up. An old “crush” that I hadn’t intended to discuss at all. There was at least a year of my life where I thought about her almost every day (and possibly several times a day), each time with a mixture of pain and longing. Yesterday I was a lot more detached. She was definitely not serious relationship material, I said. But I added that it had taken me a good while to sort out all my own projections.

Coffe with an old friend beforehand also brought back happy memories of our time in Master’s class. The end result of all this stirring up of memories was that I slept fitfully.

Today I’m thinking about therapy as playing and dance.

“Psychotherapy takes place in the overlap of two areas of playing, that of the patient and that of the therapist. Psychotherapy has to do with two people playing together.” (Winnicott, 1971).

“… sometimes the patient doesn’t like the frame but it may nevertheless be constructive and useful to maintain it— both for the analyst’s self-interest and for the patient’s ultimate benefit. … A patient once brought a boom box into my office, turned it on, and asked me, “Do you ever dance with your patients?” I replied without hesitation: “No. Never.”” – Gabbard (2007)

But Gabbard also acknowledges that the dance needs to happen metaphorically. At the end of his article he says:

“One of the great lessons of analytic work that applies to frame management is that one has to dance the patient’s dance steps for a little ways down the road. If one refuses to do so, the music may stop.”

My experience tells me this is not just metaphorical. It’s about getting into a similar emotional and physical place. The mirroring of body postures for example. Research in empathy has shown that when a therapist is “in tune” with a patient that there are similar physiological processes going on within the two of them.

I suppose the earlier point about the frame is that we need to be careful that our patients don’t take us for a ride or dance rings around us. But even if they do, is it always a bad thing? Perhaps it’s inevitable in terms of how their relationships happen. The trick then is to bring that awareness into the therapy and to modify the dance perhaps.

In the meantime, the verdict on whether the new therapist will be a good dance-partner is still out. One thing that bothers me is his seriousness. I want someone who can laugh (and play) in therapy. He asks good questions though (which is a form of playing). But does he have a sense of the absurdity of life? Of course life is serious, but that’s why we laugh.

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5 Responses to The dance of therapy

  1. Lovely post. I’ve had two short experiences with therapy – in the one, the therapist and I were NOT in tune and were not able to dance together (I felt he insulted my intelligence with very childish games – I was an Honours student and an adult at the time) and the second time, the therapist and I were wonderfully tuneful and she helped me sort out my issues and move forward. I’m sure it’s because she was able to be empathetic.

  2. Litlove says:

    Ooh how interesting. I chose a therapist once because he made me laugh so much. But then mid-treatment he gave up therapy because his own life was in a mess. I went back to the serious therapist I wasn’t so sure about, and he’s turned out to be the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s so hard to know what’s going to come out further down the line.

  3. Pete says:

    Charlotte – Very glad to hear you had a good experience with therapy and found a good therapeutic dance partner.

    Litlove – Interesting that the laughing therapist didn’t really work out and that the serious therapist did. I know that serious engagement is always the way to go – but the temptation to divert into humour is often too good to resist. Perhaps there’s a middle ground where one can be both serious and laugh about things. In fact I’m sure there is. It’s like a good friendship or a good novel. What’s that old maxim: make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait.

  4. Dick says:

    I like the Winnicott quote. I haven’t read him since college. I’m always interested to read of experiences in therapy. I’ve never tried it and, paradoxically, feel that maybe I should now that life is more settled and even.

  5. seachanges says:

    What an interesting approach to therapy – no, I’ve never tried it either although at one point in my life (early twenties, a long time ago now) I read whatever I could get my hands on by Jung and Freud and others. Then I drifted away from it again. I love this approach that it should be about laughter as well as be serious. It makes a session sound quite appealing – try and move away from the seriousness of life and day to day stresses.

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