Dace Purena (Latvia). Reflection Group and Existential View of a Psychotherapist’s Ways of Being
Reflection group is a group of existential supervision that holds in its focus of attention a psychotherapist’s identity, ways of being in the world and in relationships with clients.
History and primary concept. A group of existential supervision (a reflection group) was conceived five years ago. The idea for creating the group grew out of a workshop conducted in Birštonas by Simon du Plock, where he gave the group an opportunity to study more deeply, by means of self-reflection, the question of how we became psychotherapists. A primary understanding of the group’s tasks was not to obtain concrete clear-cut answers to questions about oneself as a psychotherapist but to study, discover and generate further questions, ever deeper and related to aspects of being with clients. Such exploration helped to achieve the goal of the group – to improve the quality of being in therapeutic relationships, but also proved efficient in overcoming professional fatigue.
Currently, the main goals of the group remain the same as in the beginning, but the range of issues related to the sense of self-identity of psychotherapist has widened and deepened considerably.
At the moment, the work of the group continues for four years. The participants include psychotherapists from various schools with at least five years of practice, since real awareness of the issue of ‘myself in psychotherapy’ is possible only with sufficient knowledge of oneself and considerable experience. This helps to stay focused on the chosen issue without deviating towards therapy or the client.
All members of the group have high self-reflection, continuous practice and a desire for continuous professional growth, including deepening their understanding of professional identity in their relations with clients. Participants attend at least for one year , and this year there are 7 participants meeting once a month.
The leader of the group is responsible for the process, its timing and premises, but does not oversee the discussed questions and participates in the process on the same terms as all participants.
Theoretical underpinnings. I base my understanding of existential supervision on Simon du Plock’s definition of ‘supervision as a small practical study of our openness and our limitations in being in relationship with clients. In this kind of approach, the supervisor and the supervisee become co-researchers of the phenomenon of “relationship”.’ (du Plock, 2007: 38). That is, attention is focused on the psychotherapist and all his/her professional relationships, including relations with oneself. Also, Simon du Plock’s understanding of supervision places the supervisor and the supervised in the reflection group as co-researchers of the phenomenon of ‘relations’.
At the seminar conducted at Birštonas, Simon du Plock spoke about existential supervision opening a space of exploring those blocking and problematic factors that interfere with the therapist staying in relationship with a client. One of such factors is problems related to the psychotherapist’s identity, ways of being as psychotherapists and relations with the world and clients. If these are identified and opened, it can help a therapist to raise awareness of the relationship to the client and to be in this relationship more authentically. Through its open, revising attitude, the reflection group helps to create such a space, facilitating understanding, development and solution of such issues.
Turning to Simon du Plock again (du Plock, S. 2017: 9), at the centre of existential supervision (and of the reflection group, too) is the ‘worldview position of the supervisee as to the conditions for him/her necessary to be a therapist, what is needed to enable the supervisee envisage the therapeutic practice as possible and desirable and how these conditions are activated or questioned at a particular meeting with a client.’ Exploration of the worldview of the supervisee conducted from the position of his/her professional identity as a therapist often leads us not only to those ways of being that are related to professional identity and that make our work harder, but also to the worldview of each supervised person as a whole. This is the point allowing to see anew not only oneself, but also one’s relationship with clients.
The group’s philosophy. The main accent is on a psychotherapist as a person who helps other people and on problems that emerge at the intersection ‘myself as a practitioner and the world around me’. It is important to follow not only professional relations with the outside world, which is related to us and influences our professional identity, but also out relations with ourselves – this is the way our personal perception of the world, experience of ourselves and of our life context at the particular instance in life influences us as therapists. We as professionals are also concerned with relations with the outside world – the society, the law, and many other things. They all have impact on our perception of our identity as psychotherapists, and this, in turn, influences our clients.
Main themes in the reflection group. These can be divided into several groups, such as ‘“Side effects” of the profession of psychotherapist’, ‘Vulnerability of a psychotherapist’, ‘How to avoid being burnt out professionally and maintain interest for work’, ‘Ethical issues’, ‘Psychotherapist and the law’, ‘Psychotherapist in the society’, and others.
The most valuable moments in the group. ‘I have talked of how to work if strong negative emotions interfere, if I feel unwell or professionally exhausted as a result of the personal situation in life…’ ‘I remember one meeting of the group focusing on how one of my colleagues felt before next holidays…’ ‘I remember how I felt when someone wrote a complaint on the Internet and how the colleagues’ reflections helped me recover…’, ‘The most treasured were conversations on how profession influenced communication with one’s near and dear…’