The fells and dales group met on Friday, 17/9/19 to discuss a paper on schema therapy which was published in the BACP journal, therapy today in March this year entitled “Attachment is key” by Dan Rivers. The article states that “ we all have schemas” and, similar to the notion of “drivers” in transactional analysis, these are imprinted from an early age.They are identified by the client filling in a questionnaire. Rivers suggests that there are 18 early maladaptive schemas and that these influence us for good or ill but mostly ill until recognised and worked through in a positive therapeutic relationship. The list is well worth perusing and reflecting on- the one that linked particularly for me with recent clinical work was “abandonment or instability “ when you fear constantly that relationships will end. Most point to low self- worth as the main underlying issue. Another useful one was “Defectiveness/ Shame” when the client feels a failure and has strong self- critical beliefs possibly stemming from harshly critical parents or failing at school perhaps due in part to being dyslexic – whatever the cause, we felt that these categories were a helpful way of conceptualising and making sense of distress while also being wary of pigeonholing or over- simplifying what the client is bringing. They could also be a useful mirror or prism for reviewing and re- evaluating our own experience.
We liked Rivers’ emphasis on an integrative approach which acknowledges the value of different ways of working including object relations and attachment -he states that schema therapy is essentially a mixture of CBT, gestalt and psychodynamic theories and originated in the mid 1980’s in the work of Jeffrey Young who was an associate of Aaron Beck, the founder of cognitive therapy.
Our meeting then mainly focussed on an exploration of the power dynamic in therapy including transference and how the counsellor accepts and views their authority and/or are uncomfortable with this to the extent of denying and being blind to their own effectiveness when they have achieved “good” work with a client who has a positive outcome- an example given was a possible tendency( which most of us owned and recognised) to say to a client at the end of the work together that they, the client, had “ done most of the hard work” so avoiding/ denying our own positive input! We then discussed why this might be, stemming from our own childhood experience and conditioning.
The ‘Fells & Dales’ group of counsellors met on 12th April, to reflect on the subject of ‘Authenticity’. The paper for discussion was entitled ‘Authenticity: A Goal For Therapy?’ by Miriam Donaghy (Practical Philosophy Autumn 2002). We also listened to a recent broadcast of Radio 4’s ‘In Our Time’ – a panel discussion chaired by Melvyn Bragg on the theme of ‘Authenticity.
We had a wide-ranging conversation about the meaning of authenticity, as generally understood but also as applied particularly to the work of therapy. It is, perhaps, a given that as therapists we aim to model authenticity, our hope being that our clients might also discover a way of living authentically. However, we asked ourselves what being “true to oneself” actually means, and how it relates to other concepts such as congruence, transparency, integrity, honesty, genuineness and autonomy (the latter meaning literally ‘giving oneself the law’). We noted how helpful clients might find our occasional self-disclosures (judiciously used), and how authenticity might mean revealing our humanness and our fallibility.
A concern was raised over the possibility of authenticity leading to narcissism, self-centredness or isolation (“I’m OK, never mind anyone else”), but this was countered by the notion that self-acceptance and self-awareness tend to result in both greater acceptance of others, and an ability to receive others’ acceptance, and an enhanced capacity for empathy.
We concluded, as we often do, that it is a great privilege to draw alongside our clients for part of their journey towards authenticity. However, we acknowledged that authenticity is an ideal, rarely achieved and only sustainable for brief spells. For some, the cost of being fully authentic might be too great, if it puts relationships with significant others at risk. But at least there could be something ‘authentic’ about recognising and perhaps finding a place for whatever inauthenticity is within us.