22 March 2015 Transference

22 March 2015 Transference
One of the things that has always annoyed me about the psychoanalysts is their emphasis on the idea of transference. Over and over again they bring it in, and one of my clients, who also had a supervisor who was psychoanalytic, said that this supervisor would continually ask – “And what was going on there in the transference?” But until recently I had no real alternative to this, and only quite a feeble reply to the question – “What do you do then?” And in my own work in supervision, I found the notion of countertransference quite a useful one on many occasions.
But recently I have realised that the idea of the dialogical self neatly takes the place of both transference and countertransference. Instead of saying that we all have an unconscious mind, we say that we all have a number of I-positions. This is now far more precise and pointed than the idea of the unconscious, which now seems to be far too broad-brush and blunt to be of real use. We do not ask what the unconscious thinks about this, we ask instead which I-position has a different view – maybe even two or three different I-positions.
This is so simple and elegant that I cannot imagine ever going back to the old way of thinking. The client says – “I am now really ready to get married” – and instead of asking – “And what does your unconscious say about this?” – we can now say: “That is fine, but do any of your I-positions have a different point of view on this?” We may discover that there are not just two things going on, but perhaps three or four things at the same time. This may not be any simpler, but it is far more precise. And we can then go on to probe the strength and justification of any of these other voices.
We can also use the same idea to probe the relationship in therapy. If there are six I-positions on the client’s side and four or five on the therapist’s side, there is far more going on than we were able to see before. And we can tease out the multiple relationships that result. Years ago, Petruska Clarkson was saying that there were five relationships going on at the same time – now we are saying that that is itself a simplification, and that there may be other relationships hitherto unobserved and unnamed that also figure and need to be taken into account. The beauty of this idea is that it describes something that can be brought out and examined in the therapy room here and now, on the hoof, so to say. The dialogical self theory, so well described by Hubert Hermans and his co-workers, is easy to use and open to all.

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