I’m not used to playing the part of psychotherapeutic agony uncle, but I recently received the following letter. With my steaming mug of liquorice herbal tea at my side I read:
I wonder if you could help me. I’m training to be a TA psychotherapist, and thought I was making good progress. At first I learnt to observe my clients and help them to identify recurring themes and patterns linked to the past in order to enhance their self awareness and insight. Albeit with some painful soul-searching I came to the Stark realisation that I was only being a 1-person therapist! For the past year I’ve been focusing on becoming a better, 1½ -person therapist, decentering from my own experience and empathically immersing myself in that of my client, thus providing them with a ‘corrective’ experience – one they didn’t have as a child. I must say that my work, along with my self confidence as a therapist, has improved enormously.
All was going well until I heard about the 2-person therapist! It came as a bit of a shock, and again left me feeling somewhat deficient, second best – just like when I bought my iphone4 some time back, only to superseded by the 4s model, and more recently the iphone5! Both my iphone 4 and my 1½ -person therapist-self seem suddenly and sadly old hat, lacking ‘relational depth’, and inferior! It seems that to be ‘with-it’, state of the art, relational I need to learn to become a 2-person practitioner (and get an iphone 5!). I’m told that this will involve me focusing not just on my client but on myself and our here-and-now intersubjective engagement with each other, involving mutuality and reciprocity. It does sound very like the experience they say you get with the iphone5, a more interactive, sensitive and contactful touch screen experience! I’ve heard that you’re only a relational TA therapist if you’re the 2-person version. Does this mean that I’m not relational? I thought I was!
I took a big swig of my liquorice and mint herbal tea and replied with the following.
“Dear Brin Reece, (was that his real name I wondered – it almost sounded like an anagram!)
I can understand how you feel. I have an iphone 4s and to be honest (and 2-person?) regard mere mortals, and the diminished portals of their iphone4, with an attuned yet patronizing sympathy. On the other hand I look up enviously to the proud owners of the latest iphone5 with a mixture of envy, desire and pointless self flagellation. My friends say I should focus on embracing my iphone 4s, and by doing so accept myself, since there’s always something out there in bright new packaging, promising a better, superior and more complete experience, only to be superseded by something apparently shinier, but not really new.
Oh and I almost forgot about the other matter of the 2-person psychotherapist! I’m sorry to have to break the news to you, but the 2-person version has already been superseded – by the Tudor’s ‘2-person +’ and Cornell’s ‘2-person separate’ versions – I won’t even go into what they mean now because I don’t want to confuse you or depress you further (have I?). But take heart, like with mobile phones there’s a plethora of psychotherapeutic ‘providers’ of the 2-person-version, even just within TA, many of whom don’t even bother with ideas of the unconscious or transference.
Within the psychotherapeutic sub-culture psychoanalysis, somewhat like Apple and Google, has generally been viewed as a superior model - the real McCoy – but then they’ve got the granddaddies of them all, Sigmund and Carl (the Steve Jobs and Larry Page of psychoanalysis) as opposed to our mere second generation models of the founding fathers Carl, Fritz, and Eric. However, the psychoanalytic tribe were way behind the humanistics in reframing the therapeutic relationship as an encounter between two people as ‘subjects’ ie each with their own subjective, personal realities, scripts, transferences or whatever.
To say you’re only doing ‘relational TA’ if you’re using the 2-person version doesn’t mean that you’re not relational if you’re not 2-person – if you see what I mean. I don’t use the ‘relational TA’ label for myself Brin, despite my adherence to ‘The Principles’ (who doesn’t these days?) because for me it carries the implication (ulterior transaction?) that other types of TA practice are not relational – and thus lesser in some way - plus I simply don’t like labels on the grounds that they tend to feed unhelpful competitiveness, defensiveness and splitting.
We transactional analysts love lists of things, and numbers – or even better, numbers in circles – but it doesn’t mean that 2person+ is better than 1, or 1.5 or 2-person versions, even if it does very much create that impression! They are simply different modes of engagement for different clients at different stages of the therapeutic process. Who really wants to limit themselves to a big clumsy dull old handset with a small screen? Who really wants to be 1-person when there’s 2-person+ available? Who really wants to be practicing ‘non-relational TA’! Not me Brin.”
I went off to make myself another liquorice and mint herbal wondering how he (and you dear reader!) had received what I had to say, thinking maybe I’d give him a ring on my brand new iphone5! I did ring him but the line was dead. It was only then that it hit me!
Brin’s name was an anagram. Brin Reece - Eric Berne! He was trying to communicate to me – thus the mobile phones metaphor. Was he was struggling with the emergence of 2-person relational transactional analysis (the iphone5) – reversing the traumatic move he’d made away from the unconscious in breaking from/being rejected by the psychoanalytic establishment? Did he bridle at what maybe seemed to him as the casting of traditional, classical TA (1-person?) as outmoded (the iphone4). I hoped that my letter had reassured him.That night I had a dream, one that I took as yet another message from Brin/Eric; I was at the national TA conference banquet dinner and everybody, all the schools including ‘relational TA’, were there. The dessert was a magnificent Apple Charlotte suitably accompanied by a delicious deluxe ice cream, which we were all enjoying, together! I’ll leave you to work out the associations – at both the unconscious and organizational levels (I’ve italicized to make it easier). I hope and trust that Brin/Eric is resting in peace with it all after all?