The Myth of the Untroubled Therapist Therapist – by Marie Adams
154 pp, £21.99
Reviewed by Suzie Chick
When my supervisor recommended this book, I was immediately struck by the title. In my short time as a trainee therapist, I have certainly experienced the projection of my clients that I must live a faultless and perfect existence in comparison to their own. Not only have such projections caused a power imbalance in the room but also I have at times internalised the message that “I’m a therapist, I can’t have problems of my own, and I must be sorted”.
So before even opening this book, I was certainly a reader with lots of vested interest in the subject.
Marie Adams, a tutor at Metonia College, has essentially conducted a research project into this topic and her book is the collection of her findings. Adams interviewed 40 therapists from across the globe and different disciplines about how they handled times of personal strife when it came to their work as therapists.
Her findings are divided into specific topics such as physical pain, depression and death in the family. For example Adam’s found that over half of the forty interviewees admitted suffering from depression since becoming therapists. I felt there could have been a whole other book on this specific topic alone (e.g. does being a therapist make us more susceptible to depression or vice versa)?
Adam’s found that most of the therapists continued to work with clients during their times of personal difficulties, some citing that their work helped as a good distraction. However upon reflection, some of the therapists did wonder how present they truly were in those sessions and some even received formal complaints or sudden client terminations during this time. This, for me, begs the question, are our clients’ inadvertently rescuing us when we use them to as a distraction? And are we really serving our client’s best interest by creating a temporary co- dependent relationship of sorts?
She also explores why we buy into the myth of the untroubled therapist, even though the term of the ‘wounded healer’ is regularly drilled into us during our training, through books etc. Adams research indicates that the fear of being vulnerable and feeling shame seem to be factors in us hiding our personal issues. The irony that these are two of the key qualities that can arise with our clients in our work with them is not lost on me. Adams explains that allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and to acknowledge our issues, is the best way to adhere to the doctrine of ‘do no harm’ for our clients and that shame is one of the greatest barriers to self-exploration and creativity.
are our clients’ inadvertently rescuing us when we use them to as a distraction? And are we really serving our client’s best interest by creating a temporary co- dependent relationship of sorts?
Adam’s differentiates between the reasons why we chose a career in psychotherapy and the catalyst, which prompted us to head in this direction. Adams believes that therapists are created through our early life experiences and that we unconsciously self-medicate by helping others with their issues. Although I find this a harsh reality, upon reflection, I can also personally relate to it. I agree with Adams that there often exists an underlying reason for our motives, which are at the core of our being and our history.
I found this book really illuminating and enjoyed Adam’s honest and engaging style. She does well to contain her research findings on such a massive and sensitive topic. I feel this whole area needs far greater discussion and hopefully Adam’s book will act as a good starting point. I will certainly be returning to this book during my training and subsequent career as I found it a great comfort that, in Adams words, “ we may be therapists, but we are also humans.”
Practising Existential Psychotherapy, The Relational World – By Ernesto Spinelli
Sage Publishing, 2014
215 pp, £22.00
Reviewed By Nick Opyrchal
I have to admit I am fascinated by existential philosophy. Having only recently devoured the weighty book on existential psychotherapy by Irvin Yalom, which I found to be one of the most powerful texts yet that I had encountered in my time as a trainee, I was feeling understandably enthusiastic about my encounter with ‘Practicing Existential Pychotherapy’ by Ernesto Spinelli – a book which had received many glowing reviews. Although in reading it I did not have the paradigm shift that I hoped for, nevertheless I was presented with a perspective of great depth and philosophical integrity which enhanced my knowledge of the existential method in general.
Spinelli writes quite densely and a wealth of philosophical background is provided at the start of the book which really gives quite a detailed explanation of the phenomenological method and its relationship to this model of practicing therapy; and why it is so important as a result for practitioners to stay ‘in the here and now’. I found this to be very interesting and perhaps the clearest attempt to link existential philosophy to practice that I had yet encountered (Yalom noticeably and deliberately sidesteps a lot of the more abstract philosophical elements in his book). Spinelli clearly cares about his subject and has really made a heroic attempt to try and present the philosophy in a package that laymen can just about understand – almost succeeding, he does still read a bit on the academically dry side, which may be unavoidable when trying to distill European continental philosophy into something practical.
Spinelli clearly cares about his subject and has really made a heroic attempt to try and present the philosophy in a package that laymen can just about understand
Spinelli breaks down the existential method into three sections and spends the majority of the book focusing on the first of these – ‘Theoretical Underpinnings’ this is because in its acceptance of what is, focus on the present and lack of a need to make meaning or ‘solve’ clients it is probably the most difficult part for someone who is trained in, say, a psychodynamic perspective to get their heads around. Spinelli really wants to show you what makes the existential perspective unique in terms of practice, and I felt that this passion carries through the sometimes dry style of writing. I did feel that this was the most methodically ‘pure’ existential book that i had read yet, but this also made me wonder about how (or if) you could employ it in an integrative way of practicing easily.
What i felt in reading this book on my own was that I was missing out on really experiencing the gold contained within – this being the dozens of excellent practical exercises that you are given exploring each of the themes of the book with a partner. Even in reading these without actually experiencing them I could still see the way that they would challenge and change my way of working with clients and I am now eagerly looking forward to finding someone to act as a guinea pig for my newly blossoming existential practice. Not only are we given these exercises but we are also spoiled with an existential method of dreamwork, discussions on boundaries and what this means for this model and how to deal with endings in an existential frame. It feels like almost every eventuality is covered and it is amazing how much is packed into this one book.
I feel in conclusion that this is an indispensable book for anyone who feels that the existential perspective appeals to them as a method
I feel in conclusion that this is an indispensable book for anyone who feels that the existential perspective appeals to them as a method. I did find it more challenging both in terms of writing style and also in thinking about how i would integrate it into my practice compared to Yalom’s book, but I feel that it answered many questions that I had never had answers to previously about the existential method.