Power & Therapy

By Published On: April 5, 2022

Power & Therapy

Power & Therapy

Power & Therapy

By Published On: April 5, 2022

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Image Credit: Unsplash
Therapeutic Frame
Reed Everingham

Provides counselling and psychotherapy services for individuals, couples, and groups. He is also a clinical supervisor and academic at Western Sydney and Deakin Universities. His approach is trauma-informed, gender-affirmative, and person-centred.

Disclaimer

THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS THE VIEWS OF THE AUTHOR AND IS NOT A REPLACEMENT FOR THERAPEUTIC SUPPORT. PLEASE REACH OUT TO A REGISTERED THERAPIST IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING DISTRESS AND REQUIRE ASSISTANCE © REED EVERINGHAM CONSULTING.

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve been having some interesting discussions recently about power. Power is fascinating because it is often unacknowledged or ignored until lost. The power of privilege and status especially fits this dynamic. An employed person doesn’t really see the power in being gainfully employed until the job is lost. A man might not have understood the power of the title ‘husband’ until he is separated or divorced. An only child immediately loses agency upon the birth of a sibling. Power is taken, assumed, transferred, and inferred. It is malleable, temporal, fickle, and cyclical.

I’m interested in how power plays out in the therapeutic space between a therapist and a client. From the outside, it may appear to be stacked in favour of the therapist. The meeting is transactional, with money exchanging hands for service. The therapist has time slots available at their discretion that the client needs to select from.

But power does not necessarily bow to money or time – it is a more subtle beast that stems from the interplay of the people present. It will ebb and flow depending on the context. It’s different with your spouse, your best friend, a stranger, a police officer, a shop assistant. It can also be experienced as benevolent or paternal (Hutton & Cisco, 2020). It can be, and often is, gendered, political, economic, and cultural. It’s ubiquitous and systemic, and this is part of the challenge. This dynamic in therapy can be understood through three key lenses: the role of the therapist (publicly sanctioned and the therapist having expertise), societal, and historical (Overend, 2021).

In the therapy room, any power I have is mitigated by the care I must take. I am in service to the needs of my client. Of course, there is societal privilege – I am white, male, middle-aged, English-speaking, and educated. But those things do not make me any better as a therapist.

The measure for me is found in the way I meet the client where they are, which includes where they are in terms of power – powerful or powerless. Empowered or disempowered? Overpowering or overpowered? For example, society, economy, gender, age, race, sexuality, and body are all determinants of mental health, and all play a role in the client’s sense of agency and personhood.  This topic highlights the tension between my theoretical understanding of Foucault and his discourses on power with materialism, individualism, and free will (Guilfoyle, 2014).

There’s this phenomenon called projection and parallel process, which means I may experience much of what a client is going through because they will subtly or not so subtly transfer the feeling to me. They might lash out, retreat, or even sever therapy to protest a perceived power imbalance. And that’s ok – it’s part of being human and a part of therapy. My work with clients often involves working with them to identify their unique resources, abilities, and talents and to recognise and balance the power dynamics they are experiencing both in the room and their lives. I aim to help them be more adaptive, creative, and resilient to power. We can then begin to “co-power”, working respectfully and acknowledging our unique perspectives and personhood.

Sometimes, it is useful to try to name this experience in therapy, and this technique/intervention is called immediacy. It’s a wonderful way to co-power; however, this opportunity sometimes presents as too little too late.

But it’s never really too late in therapy – even in goodbyes and endings – it’s all still “grist for the mill” for both client and therapist.

I wrote this article because power is a thing, and it’s hard to talk about it when its influence is overwhelming. This article is a way for me to broach the topic safely, to let you know that I’m aware of my power and powerlessness and that I try to use any agency I have for our mutual benefit, steeped in those enduring and grace-giving human qualities of compassion, kindness, and understanding. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if this article resonates with you in light of your story and situation.

References:

Guilfoyle. (2014). The person in narrative therapy : a post-structural, Foucauldian account. Palgrave Macmillan.

Hutton, & Sisko, S. (2020). Multicultural Responsiveness in Counselling and Psychology: Working with Australian Populations. Springer International Publishing AG.

Overend. (2021). Working with Power in Existential Therapy. Existential Analysis, 32(2), 309–321.

Share This Article, Choose Your Platform!

Image Credit: Unsplash
Therapeutic Frame
Reed Everingham

Provides counselling and psychotherapy services for individuals, couples, and groups. He is also a clinical supervisor and academic at Western Sydney and Deakin Universities. His approach is trauma-informed, gender-affirmative, and person-centred.

Disclaimer

THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS THE VIEWS OF THE AUTHOR AND IS NOT A REPLACEMENT FOR THERAPEUTIC SUPPORT. PLEASE REACH OUT TO A REGISTERED THERAPIST IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING DISTRESS AND REQUIRE ASSISTANCE © REED EVERINGHAM CONSULTING.

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve been having some interesting discussions recently about power. Power is fascinating because it is often unacknowledged or ignored until lost. The power of privilege and status especially fits this dynamic. An employed person doesn’t really see the power in being gainfully employed until the job is lost. A man might not have understood the power of the title ‘husband’ until he is separated or divorced. An only child immediately loses agency upon the birth of a sibling. Power is taken, assumed, transferred, and inferred. It is malleable, temporal, fickle, and cyclical.

I’m interested in how power plays out in the therapeutic space between a therapist and a client. From the outside, it may appear to be stacked in favour of the therapist. The meeting is transactional, with money exchanging hands for service. The therapist has time slots available at their discretion that the client needs to select from.

But power does not necessarily bow to money or time – it is a more subtle beast that stems from the interplay of the people present. It will ebb and flow depending on the context. It’s different with your spouse, your best friend, a stranger, a police officer, a shop assistant. It can also be experienced as benevolent or paternal (Hutton & Cisco, 2020). It can be, and often is, gendered, political, economic, and cultural. It’s ubiquitous and systemic, and this is part of the challenge. This dynamic in therapy can be understood through three key lenses: the role of the therapist (publicly sanctioned and the therapist having expertise), societal, and historical (Overend, 2021).

In the therapy room, any power I have is mitigated by the care I must take. I am in service to the needs of my client. Of course, there is societal privilege – I am white, male, middle-aged, English-speaking, and educated. But those things do not make me any better as a therapist.

The measure for me is found in the way I meet the client where they are, which includes where they are in terms of power – powerful or powerless. Empowered or disempowered? Overpowering or overpowered? For example, society, economy, gender, age, race, sexuality, and body are all determinants of mental health, and all play a role in the client’s sense of agency and personhood.  This topic highlights the tension between my theoretical understanding of Foucault and his discourses on power with materialism, individualism, and free will (Guilfoyle, 2014).

There’s this phenomenon called projection and parallel process, which means I may experience much of what a client is going through because they will subtly or not so subtly transfer the feeling to me. They might lash out, retreat, or even sever therapy to protest a perceived power imbalance. And that’s ok – it’s part of being human and a part of therapy. My work with clients often involves working with them to identify their unique resources, abilities, and talents and to recognise and balance the power dynamics they are experiencing both in the room and their lives. I aim to help them be more adaptive, creative, and resilient to power. We can then begin to “co-power”, working respectfully and acknowledging our unique perspectives and personhood.

Sometimes, it is useful to try to name this experience in therapy, and this technique/intervention is called immediacy. It’s a wonderful way to co-power; however, this opportunity sometimes presents as too little too late.

But it’s never really too late in therapy – even in goodbyes and endings – it’s all still “grist for the mill” for both client and therapist.

I wrote this article because power is a thing, and it’s hard to talk about it when its influence is overwhelming. This article is a way for me to broach the topic safely, to let you know that I’m aware of my power and powerlessness and that I try to use any agency I have for our mutual benefit, steeped in those enduring and grace-giving human qualities of compassion, kindness, and understanding. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if this article resonates with you in light of your story and situation.

References:

Guilfoyle. (2014). The person in narrative therapy : a post-structural, Foucauldian account. Palgrave Macmillan.

Hutton, & Sisko, S. (2020). Multicultural Responsiveness in Counselling and Psychology: Working with Australian Populations. Springer International Publishing AG.

Overend. (2021). Working with Power in Existential Therapy. Existential Analysis, 32(2), 309–321.

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve been having some interesting discussions recently about power. Power is fascinating because it is often unacknowledged or ignored until lost. The power of privilege and status especially fits this dynamic. An employed person doesn’t really see the power in being gainfully employed until the job is lost. A man might not have understood the power of the title ‘husband’ until he is separated or divorced. An only child immediately loses agency upon the birth of a sibling. Power is taken, assumed, transferred, and inferred. It is malleable, temporal, fickle, and cyclical.

I’m interested in how power plays out in the therapeutic space between a therapist and a client. From the outside, it may appear to be stacked in favour of the therapist. The meeting is transactional, with money exchanging hands for service. The therapist has time slots available at their discretion that the client needs to select from.

But power does not necessarily bow to money or time – it is a more subtle beast that stems from the interplay of the people present. It will ebb and flow depending on the context. It’s different with your spouse, your best friend, a stranger, a police officer, a shop assistant. It can also be experienced as benevolent or paternal (Hutton & Cisco, 2020). It can be, and often is, gendered, political, economic, and cultural. It’s ubiquitous and systemic, and this is part of the challenge. This dynamic in therapy can be understood through three key lenses: the role of the therapist (publicly sanctioned and the therapist having expertise), societal, and historical (Overend, 2021).

In the therapy room, any power I have is mitigated by the care I must take. I am in service to the needs of my client. Of course, there is societal privilege – I am white, male, middle-aged, English-speaking, and educated. But those things do not make me any better as a therapist.

The measure for me is found in the way I meet the client where they are, which includes where they are in terms of power – powerful or powerless. Empowered or disempowered? Overpowering or overpowered? For example, society, economy, gender, age, race, sexuality, and body are all determinants of mental health, and all play a role in the client’s sense of agency and personhood.  This topic highlights the tension between my theoretical understanding of Foucault and his discourses on power with materialism, individualism, and free will (Guilfoyle, 2014).

There’s this phenomenon called projection and parallel process, which means I may experience much of what a client is going through because they will subtly or not so subtly transfer the feeling to me. They might lash out, retreat, or even sever therapy to protest a perceived power imbalance. And that’s ok – it’s part of being human and a part of therapy. My work with clients often involves working with them to identify their unique resources, abilities, and talents and to recognise and balance the power dynamics they are experiencing both in the room and their lives. I aim to help them be more adaptive, creative, and resilient to power. We can then begin to “co-power”, working respectfully and acknowledging our unique perspectives and personhood.

Sometimes, it is useful to try to name this experience in therapy, and this technique/intervention is called immediacy. It’s a wonderful way to co-power; however, this opportunity sometimes presents as too little too late.

But it’s never really too late in therapy – even in goodbyes and endings – it’s all still “grist for the mill” for both client and therapist.

I wrote this article because power is a thing, and it’s hard to talk about it when its influence is overwhelming. This article is a way for me to broach the topic safely, to let you know that I’m aware of my power and powerlessness and that I try to use any agency I have for our mutual benefit, steeped in those enduring and grace-giving human qualities of compassion, kindness, and understanding. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if this article resonates with you in light of your story and situation.

References:

Guilfoyle. (2014). The person in narrative therapy : a post-structural, Foucauldian account. Palgrave Macmillan.

Hutton, & Sisko, S. (2020). Multicultural Responsiveness in Counselling and Psychology: Working with Australian Populations. Springer International Publishing AG.

Overend. (2021). Working with Power in Existential Therapy. Existential Analysis, 32(2), 309–321.

Image Credit: Unsplash
Therapeutic Frame
Reed Everingham

Provides counselling and psychotherapy services for individuals, couples, and groups. He is also a clinical supervisor and academic at Western Sydney and Deakin Universities. His approach is trauma-informed, gender-affirmative, and person-centred.

Disclaimer

THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS THE VIEWS OF THE AUTHOR AND IS NOT A REPLACEMENT FOR THERAPEUTIC SUPPORT. PLEASE REACH OUT TO A REGISTERED THERAPIST IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING DISTRESS AND REQUIRE ASSISTANCE © REED EVERINGHAM CONSULTING.

Share This Article, Choose Your Platform!