Seeing the big picture, or not
I was recently in a bitterly cold Hamburg, satisfying the desires of one smaller member of my family who sleeps besides his Hornby train set. Hamburg houses Wunderland, the biggest model railway in the world, and, luckily for me, also a great friend who emigrated there. Together with her family, we made up a group of nine – a noisy mix of cultures, ages, demands and energy levels.
Two of our party had visited Wunderland many times before, knew the layout of the extensive tracks and stepped up to lead the way. We followed them upstairs first, to ‘Switzerland’, then on to ‘the airport’ – there was also a viewing platform for the micro-world beneath. Next onto ‘Hamburg’, along with its brilliant representation of a mini Wunderland. I tried so hard to make out the Wunderland within this mini version that I nearly fell over. My annoyingly tidy mind likes to think it exists.
In contrast to our two guides, two of our nine were very young. The rest of us fell somewhere in between these realms of experience and our collective post mortem reflected this, along with our personality differences, likes and wants too. While one of us waxed lyrical about the aeroplanes taking off in the ‘sky’, another was gripped by the lay-out of tracks under his feet. The eldest particularly liked the control room with its scores of screens monitoring the whole enterprise, while another returned home to draw mountain scenery, inspired by ‘the Alps’. I realised I had missed much of the big picture, as I had been so absorbed by the detail of the tiny figures scattered either side of the train tracks.
We all enjoyed what each other saw, sometimes sharing the same responses, sometimes learning something new (although I didn’t share the amount of sex the tiny people were up to). The sum of all our parts didn’t quite make up the colossal whole, but certainly enriched each others’ perspectives. It’s inevitable that I will visit again, and I know I will take a different view when I do – including the whole more as well as other constituent parts.
I returned to London to a CPD course. I was reluctant to go, exhausted by the trip, but remembered how much I gain from a group learning experience, with myriad perspectives in mind. It turned out to be an intimate set-up, with only nine of us. We were another (less noisy) mix of cultures, ages, demands and energy levels. Our facilitator however was trained differently from us all. He was there to represent one particular school of thought and practice (his take on it of course), and he conveyed an unswaying devotion to this in all that he said throughout the day. He has also written a couple of books in his field.
He relayed a number of ideas that would challenge many psychotherapists and counsellors I know, and indeed those I didn’t know in the room with me that day. These included: ‘that countertransference is fourth or fifth rate – there are far more richer seams to mine’, even that ‘using countertransference as an intervention is an imposition and an arrogance’. The clinical superiority of variable length sessions as against the arbitrary 50 minute hour was impressed upon us, along with the idea that ‘speech is more important than feelings’ as the more important clinical material to work with.
My mind spun with these seemingly iconoclastic notions. I’ve worked hard over the years to find a rhythm with the therapeutic hour, and am now much better able to wind up an exchange to an ending that gives me my 10 minutes until the next session. I’ve thought and felt hard to attune to the nuances of my inner experiences while in the orbit of my clients – many supervision sessions begin with these. I think relatively little about my client’s relationship with his or her speech.
I wasn’t alone in querying this new way of thinking, and our curiosity was encouraged. But unlike my Hamburg tribe’s reactions, I felt that the sum of ours that time didn’t quite stack up to an alternative and valid whole. I even felt that my own way of working was lacking. I was intrigued by the apparent arrogance that came with any ‘better way’ to do psychological work without convincing evidence to prove it.
I don’t have a discrete, neatly explainable theoretical base to come home to. I do not have a set of defined rules that tells me a clear answer for what is going on in my client’s inner world or the dynamics between us. I’m an ‘integrative’, which means I hold a number of truths together and also that I don’t believe there is ever one clear answer for when our human experience confuses us.