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Chapter Six: The Role of the Therapist

Aileen Webber Karnac Books ePub

Melissa's story

“I've been to see lots of therapists in the past and none of them have helped me.”

This was the opening statement of my client Melissa, a successful accountant in her late forties who came to see me one afternoon. We decided we would talk about her reasons for seeking therapy in a one-off assessment to see if we wished to work together any further.

“What is it that you need help with?” I asked her.

“I can't speak about it,” she said, “I've never told anyone before and it's just too terrible to speak about”.

“That must be very hard,” I said, “to be holding on to something that feels so dreadful you can't speak about it, but which bothers you so much that you must seek help. Perhaps something in this room could help you find a way to show me what it is you need to tell me without having to use words?”

“That feels a bit scary,” said Melissa, and she glanced nervously at the crowded shelves of my practice-room (see Figure 6.1).

Figure 6.1. Practice-room.

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Chapter Seven: The Role of the Client

Aileen Webber Karnac Books ePub

Gillian's story

The first thing that struck me about my client Gillian was her hair. It virtually covered her face. It was as though she was trying to hide behind a wavy black curtain. This made it difficult to see her eyes, and the resulting lack of eye contact made it difficult to engage with her directly. Gillian was in her early twenties but appeared much younger. When we spoke about her life—her family, boyfriend, and housemates—she remained flat and disinterested. I almost felt like I was intruding on her and this didn't seem to fit with the fact that she had referred herself to therapy. In our initial assessment session she told me that her parents and boyfriend didn't know she'd come to see me.

An image popped into my head as I tried to navigate Gillian's lack of enthusiasm. I felt as though I held a fishing rod with bait and was trying to entice her to come up to the surface of a lake. This mental image reminded me that I needed to stop “fishing” for answers. Instead we sat in silence for a fairly long time. Eventually I asked her if she could tell me why she had come for therapy. Suddenly her demeanour changed and she seemed to come alive.

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Chapter Five: The Therapeutic Relationship

Aileen Webber Karnac Books ePub

Lucy's story

It had been several months since Lucy first came to visit my private practice. She presented herself as a highly intelligent, middle-aged woman with a great sense of humour. But lately she had been feeling anxious and confused. She was particularly tall and her body seemed as though it was struggling to fully contain her energetic presence.

Lucy had been trying to tell me something for a while, but so far she had only been able to say it was something she found impossibly difficult to talk about. She seemed caught between desperately wanting to reveal whatever it was and needing to strongly defend against revealing it. I also felt pulled in two opposite directions. I was inclined to encourage her to talk about what was distressing her, but simultaneously found myself wanting to protect her from having to speak about it. The result was that Lucy and I had become respectively stuck. How could I help her feel safe enough to communicate what was going on?

It occurred to me that we might simply focus on trying to reach a safe place, here and now, in the therapy room and see if this encouraged anything new. In a previous session Lucy had chosen a selection of objects and figures to act as her personal defenders and protectors. I suggested she now create a new image of a safe place. She took some black paper and put a few of the “protectors” (from her previous session) around the paper like a border (see Figure 5.1).

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Chapter Nine: Inside the Brain

Aileen Webber Karnac Books ePub

Julie's story

My fifteen-year-old client Julie had a secure and loving attachment to her mother. The strength of this relationship had enabled her to develop a number of ways to regulate and calm her feelings when faced with difficult circumstances. But Julie's father had an alcohol problem and it seems that her otherwise-nurturing mother had never quite known how to explain or acknowledge this to Julie. Julie had not understood at first that her father's erratic behaviour was caused by alcohol and thus now whenever she found herself in a situation where someone was acting strangely or exhibiting detached emotions, she would become overwhelmed by anxiety. She would feel inexplicably fearful and could never understand why. Julie had come to see me in order to try and help her understand and manage these difficult feelings.

Julie's mother had privately made me aware of her husband's alcoholism and I observed almost immediately that Julie herself would show great anxiety (often appearing to become frozen) whenever she was trying to say anything connected to her father. She also seemed anxious about the idea of using arts materials, so I suggested that she and I might make art-images together. I sensed intuitively that this was easier for Julie than being asked to create something on her own. She readily agreed.

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Chapter Thirteen: Conclusion

Aileen Webber Karnac Books ePub

Ali's story (continued)

There are many different ways for a client to end therapy. Some endings are planned in advance, others are more spontaneous. But however an ending occurs, it is individual to a particular client and the work they have explored. In general, we try to work with the ending in mind for around five to six sessions. During these sessions, the client and I will recall pivotal moments that have occurred along the way and look back at any images that have been created. On completing their therapy, ideally the client will leave with a new way of viewing themselves (or their issues) that can be practically incorporated into their everyday lives. There will hopefully be the potential for further change to take place in the future.

As my client Ali was approaching the end of her therapy, we discussed what she wished to do with her drawing of Eating Disorder Ali (that had been kept safely in my practice-room) (see Chapter Six, Figure 6.1). After much deliberation, Ali decided to create a ritual in which she would burn the image. The ritual was scheduled to take place five weeks before her final session. When the day in question arrived, she carefully and ceremoniously tore her drawing of Eating Disorder Ali into tiny pieces. Then she placed these pieces in the sand tray, clearing an area of sand where the fire would take place (Figure 13.1). To ensure our safety, the pieces would be kept small and within the confines of a metal candle holder as they burned. Everything was ready for the ritual.

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