There is much of the ‘non commonsensical’ in the practice of therapy – therapists talk about the various and interlinked phenomena of ‘introjection’, ‘projection’, ‘projective identification’, and ‘transferences’. These so-called ‘psycho dynamics’ involve the passing of feeling states between clients and therapists, most usually unconsciously and for reasons that are crucial to understand for the therapy to go well. Of course this all defies logical analysis or the ‘usual’ rules of scientific observation.
I tried to explain the idea of ‘projective identification’ to a highly intelligent (but consistently rational) friend recently. In short, this experience – familiar to any therapist with a knowledge of the work of Melanie Klein – occurs when an unconscious feeling of a client (eg rage) is transferred by the client ‘into’ the therapist. The therapist thus feels this other person’s rage. The client isn’t necessarily choosing to reject and propel such a feeling – this operates unconsciously, as a result of the client’s fear of the rage itself, perhaps. If all goes well, the therapist will detect this ‘other’ rage and can then use this unusual communication for the client’s good – at the least, the therapist has then learnt about a client’s hidden rage. ‘Sounds a bit like magic to me’ my friend responded to this explanation, while screwing his nose up.
I remember reading Susie Orbach’s Impossibility of Sex while I was training and being amazed by her description of a powerful ‘countertransference’ she experienced with a client whose brother had died in a fire: she felt her own body begin to burn up, as if on fire. At the time I was reminded of ouija boards and clairvoyance. I didn’t disbelieve her, but I couldn’t make any real sense out of it until I had my own first experience of something similar. During a session years later, I suddenly felt terrorised, along with the inevitable profound visceral feelings of fear: a thumping heart, sweaty palms and a desperate desire to run far away. Doing my best to give none of this away, I could later reflect on this valuable clue to a terror that had happened to him way back in his past, buried deep (understandably) that we later came to talk about. A bit like magic again?
The literature is ever-growing about these ’embodied transferences’, but I read far less about other synchronicities or oddnesses in my professional literature, even if therapists talk about them amongst themselves. Such as: how it is that therapists who talk about a client with their supervisor then experience a sudden ‘un-locking’ of something in the work, or how it is that ‘themes’ can emerge in a therapist’s practice, when similar presenting issues gather together on one day. I’ve had one client finish work with me, to be replaced the following week with a client with same presenting issues, of the same age and same name.
All of this ‘magic’, this universal consciousness as Jung might have put it, highlights the struggle some therapists face in having to quantify or neatly explain much of what we do. We do what other humans do – including using powerful universal unconscious communications that can’t be seen, or measured or reduced to scientifically digestible data.