Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Nanny McPhee and the Therapeutic Relationship


"When you need me, but don't want me, then I'll stay. When you want me, but don't need me, then, I'll have to go" Or words to that effect. It has only just struck me that this quote from Nanny McPhee sums up the crux of the therapeutic relationship. I am into the second month since full discharge and have been reflecting on the transition from needing the support of services through wanting it more than needing it, to finally realising I no longer need the levels of intervention I have previously required.

I recently had an interesting discussion with a friend of mine who is also a service user. He now works as an Expert by Experience and told me about a psychologist colleague who had been arguing with him about the nature of the therapeutic relationship. She believed that such relationships should not be considered as friendships. My friend and I both profoundly disagreed with her. Boundaries and professional distance are essential to ensure the efficacy and the emotional health of both the practitioner and service user, naturally, that's a given. However, there is an emotional bond, or at least there has to be in order for 'unconditional positive regard' to have any hope of developing. If there is not an emotional trust, based on some aspects of friendship, then the relationship may well work to an extent, but, certainly in working with Borderline Personality Disorder, at least, a level of warmth is essential in order to bring about progress. Otherwise how can I learn what a positive relationship established with effective boundaries, but also warmth and compassion, looks like?

I guess it depends what you consider 'friendship' to be. I recognise in my friends different needs and different gifts to me from each one. Some meet my basic social needs. Some are based on shared interests and enthusiasms. A handful are deeply rooted in genuine affection and deep emotional bonds. As someone with BPD much of the therapy I received was focused on my relationships with my therapists. DBT as a therapy model, recognises this and builds in these relationships and working through the ups and downs as they develop to its methods of working.

I find it interesting that when Nanny McPhee first arrives into the chaos and mayhem of the unkempt and undisciplined children, she appears hideously ugly to them. I'm not saying that all therapists are ugly! However, it is a truism when discussing therapy that 'things get worse before they get better'. Part of this process is the setting of boundaries, and the inevitable challenging of behaviours which are generating real distress and pain on the part of the service user. So, in a way there are times when I may find it hard to 'like' my therapist, and vice versa. Such is the stuff of developing relationships of any ilk. If the relationship is allowed to continue and works in addressing the key characteristics of my emotional issues, then my perception of my therapist is likely to become more positive. So with Nanny McPhee, her warts and whiskers disappear, as genuine affection replaces her challenging discipline and the children blossom under her care.

I don't think friendship as an element of the therapeutic relationship need be a threat to the professional. It is a natural part of genuine positive regard and compassionate practice.