I remember a training session where a psychologist delighted in telling me how straightforward his conversations with his clients were. ‘Your psychoanalytic language is pretty hard to get to get to grips with, pretty hard to understand,’ the trainer told me.
I agreed. ‘But I don’t usually talk about it with my clients,’ I told him. He looked surprised and I realised the thing he’d decided to talk to me about was something he didn’t actually have any experience of. ‘Then what do you say to them?’ he asked. ‘I don’t know,’ I told him. ‘Whatever there is to say. I mean, do you know what you’re going to say to me next?’ Unfortunately he did. He decided to get back to training me and gave me and the rest of the class some psycho-educational material about shame.
As he went about his business I felt more and more disengaged. Listening to someone describe shame as if it is a financial commodity, a mineral or whatever, something that has limits and parameters that are easily put into words is a depressing experience.
I’m reminded about all of this because I recently saw a client for the first time and spent much of the time helping him find a way to describe how he felt that wasn’t circumscribed by the psycho-educational (psych-ed) material foisted on him by the treatment centre he’d spent some time at. We got there eventually: the two of us in a room talking about how things were, right then, as opposed to how they might be if we kept calling on the glossary of, in the case, addiction.
Psych-ed can be helpful. We all like to know something about how we feel what we feel, think what we think and do what we do. In my experience, though, it usually gets in the way of someone’s life feeling improved. Knowledge can feel powerful … but how powerful it is depends on your relationship with it. I know how parliament works, but I can’t, for example, stop Brexit. My knowledge of parliament possibly even makes me feel worse about it.
Psych-ed can split you off from yourself. Schiz-ed. An unhappy soul can become a tortured unhappy soul because facts can end up given you nothing more than insight. What might help more is to cope with not knowing.
I could launch into a list of reasons why I think psych-ed weighs in on the side of an unhealthy therapeutic relationship (beginning with how the therapist is the one who always knows best, and facts, psych-ed facts, become incontestable). I could suggest a way of understanding life that doesn’t rely on psychological, genetic or social models. I could confess to my horror at some of the philosophical and logical confusions I have seen in most forms of psych-ed, and how these arose from as a need to make the unknowable … knowable.
But I won’t say any more than that.
Everything in life needs to be contested, some things are beyond words until you get to poetry, and psychologists are very rarely ever poets.
Before you ask what something means find out what’s happening. A green light might mean you’re better off not standing in the middle of the road wondering what’s going on.