Article: “Whose process is this?” The value of supervision
I realise that not all readers are therapists of any kind and I crave their indulgence, but the following came out of a course I held recently in Spain and I thought that the subject was so important that I would publish it for the many of us who are therapists.
“Whose process is this?” The value of supervision
Question: I have a question about something that happens to me. I have two clients who have been coming to see me regularly for some time. They have depression and there is a trust that has developed between us, so sometimes when they phone me and after they have been talking for me for a few minutes I feel as though I pick up from them where the last session finished. I feel myself beginning to yawn and to cry a few tears.
I allow the person to talk and I try not to give them answers but to refer the answers back to them, but sometimes they are on the telephone for over half an hour. Then later they sometimes leave me a message saying this has been very good for them to talk to me.
So my question is that even without trying there is a continuation of the session on the phone. Is this my imagination or my fantasy?
Mike: I think the question that we need to ask ourselves in those circumstances, is whose process are we dealing with here? That’s the important question. You may find that your own process is getting mixed up with the client’s process. If you are working with heavy duty depression, especially if the client is presenting as ‘borderline’ or psychotic or something similar, there is a danger of being sucked into that process to a point where it is resonating with your own process. Just think about that and don’t beat yourself up about it.
This work just filters in, so when when we are doing this work, I am quite fierce about insisting that we should have somebody whether we call them a supervisor or a mentor with whom we meet with periodically to share our own process. I do think that’s important. This work is so fine and so profound and it doesn’t meet the same reaction as something which is, for example, more mechanically based.
I am trying to insist on supervision in America, and then I have people saying, “Yes, but I know when I’ve got a problem, and then I will go and see somebody about it.” I want to say and I want to say it loud and clear, when you have a problem of this nature you are the last person to know about it! In my opinion, we need a mirror and I feel strongly about that. I go and see somebody about eight or nine times a year without fail. He doesn’t tell me anything about cranial work, that is not the point, he just mirrors back where I am coming from in myself; whether I am getting attached to things.
Questioner: Do you mean I should go and get some help for myself? I am already doing that every fifteen days.
Mike: That’s good. I am talking to the people in general. Any person doing any kind of deep level work should have some kind of mirror. If you are already doing that, that is fantastic. The mentor doesn’t have to understand the mechanics of cranial work or osteopathy or whatever.
Questioner: Every fifteen days I meet with a friend and I share craniosacral sessions. I am not going to a supervisor.
Mike: That is not the same thing.
Questioner: I realise that.
Mike: I am not saying you need medical help, I am saying you need a mirror of your psychic process. Let’s just stay with this issue and then we can go around and get individual responses.
Response: When I go to see my supervisor we work with the dynamics of transference and counter-transference.
Mike: Those are labels, but yes …
Response: The way I normally work with my supervisor is I take note of something that has touched me, and then we work it out together.
Mike: The thing we need to remind ourselves is that words like ‘transference’ are technical words that belong to a particular modality and that is fine. When something like this arises, there is no fault or blame, we just need to ask the question: “Whose process is this that I am experiencing?” Because whatever I am experiencing it is my experience; whether it is triggered or not by something in the client, it is touching something in me, and that is my experience. I have to own that experience as being mine, because if I feel it emotionally it is my experience.
I can try and get rid of it by projecting it onto the client and the client may or may not be having a similar experience, but in order to remain safe and to not get swamped, it is important we ask that question: “Whose process is this?” If I am feeling it emotionally then it is my process. The fact that it may resonate with somebody else’s process is neither here nor there.
Doe that make a little sense?
Questioner: This is very clear for me. When I am doing therapy and I feel something in me I ask myself, “Is this mine?” If it is not mine it is something that goes away.
Mike: So, for example, “when I speak to somebody on the phone and they ring me up a couple of days later after a session and I find myself crying, that is my process.” (See opening paragraph of this article).
Questioner: But I am not fully involved in the problem, I hear the problem and I don’t feel involved at all.
When I became aware of my own process of depression, I didn’t know whether to get in contact with a professional. I was afraid I would be given some kind of medication that I don’t want to take. I feel the pressure that I am going through at this point is because of connecting with something deep in my childhood.
Mike: Sure …
Questioner: And I have a positive feeling of knowing that I am healing this depression from my childhood; there is a certainty in my own mind. I have to live it out as my own process. I don’t have emotions around this depression but I do feel from time to time this need to be on my own and be by myself. Maybe you would advise me to go and see someone?
On Sundays, I go to meditate for four hours and there we do talk about things that come up as we meditate, but if you advise me to some other practitioner or supervisor I will do this.
Mike: [long pause] Yes.
Questioner: Who would you recommend?
Mike: Anybody who is reputed to be reasonably wise, and who is not a friend or related to you. Trust the reputation―you have to―what else can you do?
Questioner: This doesn’t clarify very much for me, but I wouldn’t mind going once a month to London to see you.
Mike: I cannot accept that, because it doesn’t work like that.
Questioner: But going to see somebody I don’t know doesn’t give me any confidence.
Mike: That is what every client who comes to see you has to do! You asked me a direct question and for once in a hundred blue moons I gave you a direct answer.
Questioner: Thank you.
Mike: You were going to say something?
Question: With regard to a supervisor, do you mean a professional like a doctor or a physician?
Mike: Is the concept of supervision unknown in Spain?
Response: It is known, but not well known.
Mike: I mean somebody who has a little experience and wisdom with no personal attachment to you who has the ability of being able to mirror what you are saying and what you are feeling; not to tell you what to do, that isn’t a supervisor’s role.
Do you have the word mentor in Spanish? Perhaps that is a better word. It doesn’t matter if they are a man or a woman as long as they have a little edge of wisdom that is useful. It cannot be a brother, or a sister, or an uncle, or a lover, or a father, because they are attached.
Response: As far as I know there are two craniosacral practitioners who offer supervision.
Mike: Do they offer the kind of supervision that we are talking about, or do they tell you how you should be practising?
Response: I have never gone to them.
Mike: It’s a task that once upon a time priests used to do; it was part of their job. This somehow seems to have got lost in the last hundred years. It used to be in there in the early days and it is still, in the cloistered orders. The desert fathers for example, didn’t talk about the rule of the church and how all contact with God had to be through the church. The relationship with God and with each other was much more direct, but things have changed.
Response: Sometimes you see people wandering down the streets talking to themselves, but I suppose this is not the best solution possible?
Mike: It might work for you but you might find yourself being locked up and sectioned! I often do it but I am old and that’s my excuse. [laughter]
Mike: What I’d like to do today, is I would just like to give a small talk on supervision and see if I can be a little clearer about what I am talking about.
I think that, in every country in the world, in the field of psychotherapy and orthodox counselling, supervision is mandatory. We need to look at two things: why is it important, and what is it? I think we have agreed that the work we do here is a joint practice which goes to a deep level of being. It is my opinion that I cannot think of any practice which safely goes to a deeper level of being. On the way to that level that I have described as being free of pathology, that level which is not a linear journey downwards or upwards but more a journey inwards to the core of our being which is already there. We may uncover, in that joint practice, some of the forces; some of the energetic patterns, which make up the totality of the human being which we have accumulated but which we have not digested.
Now stop me if I am not making sense, because I may be making sense to myself in my own language, but then I may not be making some sense to somebody else in another language.
Just to step sideways for a moment. All of us have at some time in our lives had nightmares. Has anybody never had a nightmare? Where do nightmares come from? They don’t come from outside on a train from Milan. They come from inside. They are accumulated and undigested experiences of one kind or another, which may be taking a slightly distorted form. Memory is not perfect. So when we work at a deep level with somebody else, we have discussed the word surrender, haven’t we? We are surrendering certain patterns of structure which we have come to think is who we are in order to discover more fully who we really are.
Some of those things that come up into awareness from the depths, which are usually portrayed in all the Greek mythologies as journeys into the underworld, are all actually journeys into the internal psyche of the human being, and the Greek mythology is a way of portraying that. So there are parts of the psyche that the ego is quite uncomfortable with and doesn’t want to look at, and the ego tries to keep them under control and out of sight. Sooner or later we all fail and something comes up and takes us by surprise and we find ourselves reacting or behaving in a way we wish we hadn’t. “Why did I say that?! Where did that come from?”
We all must have experienced that at some time. That is our undigested life experience speaking, and if we are ultimately infinite beings, there is an infinity of crap in there somewhere! There is also an infinity of joy and beauty in there, but they are comparative terms. You can’t have one without the other babe! You know one by reference to the other. Is that true? That is how we know whether something is good in reference to something that we call bad.
When we work at a very deep level and when we are open, vulnerable and surrendered, that is when the most profound work is done. The most profound work is not done when we are tightly held in a model; that will always be a limited work limited to the model. The most profound work is done in a state of vulnerability―insecurity―all growth is into insecurity. If we are not insecure we are staying in a place that we know, and if we are staying in a place that we know then we are not growing. By definition, any growth is the place or state that you haven’t been to before, that is what growth means; so insecurity and vulnerability are essential.
In the course of our work we may meet many people. You may have clients who are very powerful; I don’t mean they are bullies, I just mean they are full of power in that moment, and that power may not be completely benign to us. Again I am going to step sideways. If you have a very rebellious teenager in the family who is going through a bad time with themselves, who is the most powerful person in that family? They are. Everything revolves around them, doesn’t it? Most of us have had that experience if not directly indirectly with friends or family. The most powerful thing is the difficulty that that teenager is having with themselves. They are not doing it on purpose, they are being led by this undigested, unassimilated experience that is in their life.
So if you see that same teenager when they are with strangers, everybody comments on how kind and thoughtful they are! Do you know that one? But wait till the little blighter gets home! He is only able to be like that at home because he feels safe enough to express his own problems in the home. That is the burden of the parents. The child is able to express his dark side with his parents because he or she feels safe enough to be able to do that.
Let’s come back to the therapist. That pattern is in that person and they start working and it begins to go to a deeper and deeper level and those same forces if you like, that same undigested life experience which I prefer to call it, comes into connection with the exposed level that the therapist is offering, therefore, we are affected, not intellectually, but at a deeper level. We can get sucked into a process in the same way that everybody in the family is getting sucked into that teenager’s process I was just talking about. In the same way that the parents cannot stay detached from it, the therapist cannot always stay detached from it in that vulnerable state.
There is a resonance going on in her own system and she may start identifying with the client. She may in some small way become the client in complete unawareness, particularly if she may have experienced a similar kind of childhood herself, or ostensibly a similar kind of problem. It is usually around relationships, and so it is easier for that person to get quickly sucked into their own story which is buried through that resonance which is taking place. It is not a transfer from one person to another, it is like tuning an old fashioned crystal radio. There are 360 degrees in a circle and the whole circle is available, but when you just hit a certain wavelength their story starts resonating with your story and you start broadcasting on that wavelength.
Response: That is a very good analogy.
Mike: I think that is what is happening. All the other wavelengths are still there, but this is the one for the moment that the crystal is pointing at. There is no blame or praise in this. I would go as far as to say that in this model that we are immersing ourselves in this room, the more skilful practitioner you are the more vulnerable you are; the more likely you are to enter into these difficult fields without knowing it. Therefore, it is not an insult to say it would be a good idea for you to be in supervision; it’s an acknowledgement that you are doing deep level work.
What does the supervisor do? The supervisor is not involved in your process or the client’s process, the supervisor is a clean mirror with no clouds. A clean mirror. The purpose of the supervisor is to reflect back to you where your vulnerability has somehow led you, in the knowledge that if you brought into awareness what you are doing you would be able to stop doing it. But without the awareness you can’t do that.
So it needs to be someone of a certain maturity; somebody who has perhaps had some supervision training. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are craniosacral therapists, or if they are an expert in Chinese ceramics. The important thing is that they should be a little mature; not making judgements; not telling you how you should be because they don’t know that. As much as is possible they need to be a little bit objective about the situation in the context we are talking about.
The supervisor is not someone who says, “Why don’t you try doing …………………….?”“Oh, you are having a difficult time with your client, have you tried holding the sacrum and directing the Tide towards the left ear? Have you tried putting less sugar in your coffee?” She is more likely to say, “how does that feel right now?”“This situation that is arising with your client. The fact that this client seems to be giving you a little difficulty in one way or another. How does that feel?” Not what is happening, not what you are doing or not doing but how does it feel? What is the feeling surrounding that? That can gradually expand. “That feeling you’re having, have you had it before? Does it resonate with anything in your own life?”
I think I have said all I want to say on that. Perhaps one of the most important things I said was that your need for a ‘clean mirror’ is in direct proportion to the depth that you are able to work at. Does that make a little sense?
Response: It’s about something that you said yesterday. If, as you say, we are the last ones to know it may be difficult for us to describe the situation to the supervisor.
Mike: You are not describing the situation, you are saying how you feel; that is completely different, you are getting out of the left brain into the right brain. A description will only be conceptualising about something; the feeling will be the experience of something.
Response: This is I understand but it could happen that you would have difficulty relating one to the other, in which case your lack of clarity could be affecting the client.
Mike: It could be. It could be affecting the whole universe and the client’s state could be affecting you, that is what I am concerned about.
Response: So is it important to know what is the exact resonance that is occurring in me as the practitioner?
Mike: I want to be quite clear, and this is one thing I am very clear about. It isn’t important to know the exact resonance, but it is important to feel the resonance. With our Cartesian brains we want to know. We had this little discussion yesterday . We are driven to have information and that is not quite the same thing as knowledge. So is that helpful at all?
Response: Is it possible for meditation to cover this role?
Mike: Meditation is not doing anything. What is meditation doing? Who is the doer?
Response: I asked because what we are talking about makes a lot of sense and I find meditation to be very useful. In my case at the end of the meditation I feel clean and complete, but there is no guarantee.
Mike: If you are clean in that moment that will come up, if you are in a mess that will come up; meditation isn’t going to change that. You might however by devoting your time and space to that intention and giving yourself that structure become aware of what you are doing which gives you the opportunity in that moment to do something else. You make the changes; meditation doesn’t make the change, otherwise meditation would be an object we can acquire. Do you see what I’m saying? It is not an object.
It’s a bit frightening to have to take responsibility for ourselves, isn’t it? Instead of blaming somebody else for our problems, or hoping that somebody else will fix them for us. “I must change my guru.” The more enlightened the guru the less he is going to do anything about changing you! He is probably going to say, “What is your problem?” So you tell him all your problems, and he replies, “Oh, is that all? Have a cup of tea.”
Response: There are no guarantees.
Mike: There is only one guarantee in the whole universe and that is impermanence – that is guaranteed. I give you my personal guarantee.
Translator: Miguel Iribarre
Transcriber: Jo Feát