In yet another invitation to a professional development seminar I read something I would like to share here. This is taken from the abstract for an online webinar where the presenter Kathy Steele a psychotherapist from America beautifully articulates a difficult concept. She is discussing Attachment and Dependency that appear from complex developmental trauma.
As practicing [psycho] therapists and counsellors, we face a major relational dilemma when working with complex developmental trauma disorders, including dissociative disorders. On the one hand, we are encouraged to develop a therapeutic relationship on which the client becomes dependent for predictability and consistent repair. On the other hand, our clients’ unmet dependency needs evoke their profound desperation and helplessness, which are major triggers for ongoing dissociation in clients, and intense countertransference reactions in therapists. We are thus taught to prevent our clients from becoming “too” dependent on us. How can we reconcile and navigate these apparently contradictory approaches?
I use this piece of transcript in an attempt to assist the reader in understanding why the dependency of the theraputic relationship is a must. I have had endless discussions with clients about the difficulty they have in attaching to me and to the work. It is often see as counterproductive because it interferes with the person’s ability to be independent.
In what might appear a grandiose statement I reinforce; there will be NO independence, and especially zero autonomy (which is what we are really working toward) without dependency. You see the very trauma we are attempting to heal is created when the baby / child is not able (or allowed) to attach in the proper developmental manner. Repair, improved mental health and autonomy will arrive when that lack has been healed by the good parenting in the client / psychotherapist relationship.
Over the years I have worked with many younger people at the request of their parents and families. Those very people frequently (though fortunately not always) pull the client out of the theraputic work when the most important part occurs, attachment. This happens because as the person attaches to the psychotherapist and the process, they in effect pull away from the family. The family become threatened by this development and feel like the psychotherapist is invading the family dynamic. Which in effect is true.
At this point one needs to understand that family systems only survive when everyone plays their allocated role. If one person steps out of their, unspoken role, the family will escalate behaviour to ‘pull’ that person back into their role so the family can continue to operate in the way it always has. Whether it is a dysfunctional dynamic or not, the family survival depends on it.
It is important to add here that this dynamic is also common in couples. If one person comes into psychotherapy it is often difficult for the partner. This happens as the old behaviours and ways of relation can be impacted by the clients work in psychotherapy. Obviously, the psychotherapist has no desire to ‘steal’ the person from their family or relationship, they are only invested in working with the client to banish thoughts feeling and behaviours that are truncating their lives.
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