I will never forget the weeks of client and supervisee work that I’ve had since we all woke up to the EU referendum result on Friday 24th June. Every day I have had people in tears, struggling with a broken sense of identity, existential issues of despair, isolation and a deep feeling that something has died. A tidal wave of grief, confusion and alienation has been unleashed, and I am writing this blog because I feel it is time that all of us, as counsellors and psychotherapists, pick up the world work inherent in the therapeutic relationships we have behind closed doors in our consulting rooms.
Often times our work is criticised as being narcissistically focused, too narrow and individualised, only enabling clients to delve down into their personal narrative, unfolding their own life stories and the impact that has on their present and future. Psychotherapy has been viewed by many as too self-focused, ignoring the social, cultural, economic and religious realities of the contexts we all live in. More than ever before, as the world enters an intense period of fragmentation, polarisation and an explosive emergence of hate, blame and alienation, we must look at the contextual field of influence that affects our client’s experience.
Perhaps the UK is in a state of shock because it has for too long been protected from feeling the extremity of being oppressed and disenfranchised, forced into decisions with circumstances beyond our control, camouflaged by the appearance of democracy. Certainly in London where many of us are used to feeling European, we have felt the weighty impact of the EU referendum result; with clients, supervisees and training groups made up of largely European participants, as well as people from New Zealand, the U.S, Australia, and South Africa, to name but a few. Maybe this is our time to experience the full force of the divisions, violent extremes and oppressive governing that many countries on the planet have experienced for a long time. However, with 9/11, the 2005 bombings in London, the influx of traumatised, homeless refugees, the Brexit Referendum result, racial sniper shootings in the U.S, the bombing in Istanbul airport only weeks ago, the attempted military coup in Turkey recently, Paris terror shootings eight months ago, and attack in Nice on Thursday the 14th July with 84 dead so far, including at least 10 children and 50 children and adolescents admitted to the Nice Children’s Hospital, we are now only too aware of how such extremism is active in our own lives, infiltrating our own psyches, and affecting the people that we work with. Cultural and personal identity is currently facing annihilation, and therefore the anchor of ‘who I think I am’, has no solid ground. We talk often in Psychosynthesis of an ‘I’ and sense of self; what does that mean in a world that is moving swiftly to cut through certainties?
The result of the EU referendum affects us deeply. I have had both Remain and Leave voters in my private practice and training groups express deep feelings about the result and why they voted the way that they did. Many voters have had family members stop speaking to them, cut people out of their Wills or been on the receiving end of that, walked away from friendships and experienced intense conflict in their families, communities and work places. It is a challenge for practitioners to hold the tension between the extreme positions that have been unearthed by a referendum which was largely held to pander to the Eurosceptics within the Conservative party, and as a result the whole country feels confused, lied to and held hostage to a political machinery that has rolled into motion since the referendum result. Cameron resigned, leaving the mess for someone else to clear up, sparking leadership battles which have caused violent recriminations in both the Labour party and the Conservative Party with death threats, mass resignations, back stabbing politics and a one party country, currently unchallenged by any viable opposition party.
As a result, the currently unopposed, divided government shows apparent unwillingness to revisit the referendum as the new Prime Minister seeks to heal rifts in her own party whilst facing monumental tasks with a snarling back bench suspicious of whether she will take the hard line approach to leaving the EU that they want. Consequently she may not listen to the real reasons for the disenfranchisement that led to the Leave vote, and whether leaving the EU was indeed ‘the will of the people’, rather than a cry of despair from parts of the country left behind in globalisation, and the demise of the industrial age as Asia has taken over mass production, leaving many cities desolate and without the purpose they once served. Instead she will have to seek to keep everyone happy, rather than considering what is genuinely in the best interests of the country, leading to a compromise solution that doesn’t meet any of the real needs on the table. The current political climate is reminiscent of a dysfunctional family where dad takes a gamble, losses his hand and leaves in the dead of night, handing over to a steely mother facing a future of trying to keep the peace, rather than being equipped with the relevant resources to make wise decisions.
Field theory tells us that every field has a complex mixture of elements seeking expression and relationship. If marginalised elements are ignored long enough, than they will eventually revolt, seeking to overthrow the status quo. Fields of influence wish to relate, face conflict, and communicate with differing elements in order for new forms to emerge. Fields are dynamic, and if left static for too long, will eventually rebel. Given the current chaos, understanding the nature of field activity is the only place we can sanely stand as practitioners, facing the fragmentation and conflict within our work. Beyond our own affiliations, we must continue to find mutual, common ground with our client’s inner landscape, within our supervisees’ client work, and within the groups that we serve. In our therapeutic work, we must allow extremes to emerge within individuals’ psyches, and group dynamics; each faction and role allowed its expression. As differentiation is allowed, mutual common ground begins to emerge; not to erase difference, nor to reduce fears of the chaotic and unknown. As we allow extreme differentiation to express itself, there is often a natural movement to seek commonality as human beings, once difference is respected and allowed. I have facilitated this type of conflict resolution many times now, and the wisdom of field process work humbles me when I witness the natural search for mutual ground that emerges once the depths of differentiation have been honoured.
There is no doubt that this work takes courage, as the capacity to unfold and relate to intense feelings of hate, passionate despair and deep grief are not landscapes for the faint hearted. The willingness to let go of control so that we can head into the primal unknown, means that our instinctive capacity to move with energy without rational explanations, is our major ally. The ‘I’ that we speak about in our work, is valuable in that it allows us to drop personal history and identity, so that we can move into unknown territory and pick up disowned roles which are then supported to be expressed fully and honestly. All human beings seek contact, and they seek it in their own way. As practitioners, if we work from a stable place of awareness that can relate to what faces us and those that we work with, we have the capacity to allow honest experience of what is ‘here and now’, creating meaningful contact from which mutual ground can emerge.
I am heartened by the uprising of political, economic and cultural awareness that has arisen since the EU referendum vote, and as counsellors, psychotherapists, supervisors and trainers we now need to stay in touch with the differing roles that are emerging on the world stage. We must notice how these roles are playing out in the lives of the people that we work with, and challenge ourselves to both be aware of our own passions, and still be able to drop personal attachments to serve those we work with. People need facilitation of their complexity and we must have the courage as practitioners to inform and educate ourselves so that we can usefully relate to the resulting conflicts that are now bursting into our lives. This requires the capacity to understand that conflict resolution is not just about conflict; it is also a process that seeks the expression of long buried, deep feelings with the hope that within our differences, we can find the common ground of what it is to be human.
Stacey is a supervisor and trainer at the Psychosynthesis Trust.