Ivars Bauls (Latvia). Therapist in Group Existential Therapy
When people come together for a therapeutic group for the first time, nothing is revealed, everything is concealed. The group is initiated by the therapist. Every sentence he says, every pause, every sigh is greatly significant. The life experience of a therapist is particularly important, his or her ethical views and worldview. The way people perceive one another largely depend on the direction set by the therapist.
The therapist’s world and life in a group. A therapist is, always, firstly a personality and only then a professional. Sometimes, a therapist may hide behind professional qualities and not show him/herself, but even this very act can be taken as a manifestation of the personality. The therapist’s worldview and the force of his personality are among the most important factors, which influence the group life immediately.
The influence of the therapist’s values on the group. Values are somewhat similar to the worldview in that they are also concealed from the daily gaze. Values or their absence have a crucial impact on our actions.
I would say that ethical values are the main ones in terms of therapy and the therapist, in particular, these are ethical values: kindness, spirit of mutual support in the group and genuine interest in the other person.
I would suggest openness as the second most important quality after ethical values. Openness allows people to truly come closer to one another. The therapist must be open, too. The therapist should, to an extent, open up in the group to make the group open up. Openness, being related to risk, is a complicated issue. The therapist is left unprotected and loses the distance. If the therapist can be simultaneously open and maintain the position of a therapist, this is almost an ideal situation. The problem is that participants may be so different that, because of our inner imperfections, we are sometimes unable to open up. The worst thing a therapist can do in this situation is to sacrifice him/herself. Certainly, an analytic closed attitude is more acceptable then.
In terms of values, I would also like to note emotionality. Feelings and emotions form the basis of the group, but sometimes therapists go to the other extreme, losing sight of the value basis, they focus on warm, maternal emotionality, which often scares the participants. Excessive warmth is the other extremity of analytic approach.
The influence of the therapist’s personality and private life. The therapist’s private life is the cornerstone of everything. The processes in the group can have immediate influence on the therapist, and, if they fall within the area of the therapist’s problems, he/she becomes for a moment another participant, just like others. The more experienced the therapist is, the rarer these cases are, but they can hardly be avoided completely. Private life is brought up in the group even if the therapist does not speak of or hint at it. The problem is that therapists very often deny that their condition influences the therapy.
The impact of the therapist’s style and sense of the world on the group. We can compare the styles of Aleksandr Alekseičik, Rimas Budrys, Vitalija Lepeškienė. It seems that these are completely different worlds. And this is true. They are people, therapists, whose worldview is rather shared than being different, but their tempers and styles are totally different. And, here, it is completely unclear, which style is right – this question can be hardly put at all. The right style is the one which is authentic for a therapist. The style is like handwriting. It is hard to speak how the style influences the group in a qualitative way and whether it has an impact at all. What seems to be more primary is the fact that the real master will be working only in his/her style and feel confident about it. This will influence the positive outcome of therapy. Can style be amended and should it be amended? A style that is too bright is like the clothes that is too bright. A too bright style can interfere with the work of a group, and somebody may doubt if he/she would be accepted with his/her greyness, should he/she share, and may not be liked by some. And a therapist should always listen to the people who say that they find certain expressions by the therapist difficult.
The strength of the therapist’s personality and the group. There is a saying about using strength and ignoring thinking. We tend to agree with it. The therapist’s strength really decides a lot, if not everything in the group. With a weak therapist, the group’s progress is questionable. The therapist’s strength and faith in him create the environment that enables other people to meet and speak about their pain. The therapist is the source of serenity that allows this development. What is the therapist’s strength? The therapist’s strength is a kind of amalgamation of interior stability, lightness, ability to remain in his/her inner centre and, the main thing, great interest in others. A therapist cannot be too sensitive. He/she should have great compassion, but he/she should not follow the feelings, to which he/she, just as the other members of the group, is subject. The therapist’s ability to stay in his/her internal centre despite what is happening in the group is actually the nucleus of his power. The therapist’s power is transferred not only through words, but also through breathing in and out, through the pose; it can be felt through the internal world, through the ability to rely on a therapist, acknowledging him, a conviction that he/she can help.
Can a group find itself in the shade of a too strong therapist? This, certainly, is possible. With time and experience, the strength of a therapist grows. At some point, the therapist should watch for its manifestations. If the group has too much of the therapist, there is a risk that, from group therapy, it will turn to multiple individual therapies. A group is the strength of all its participants. The strength of a therapist’s personality facilitates the activity of the group, but this strength should not become the active element, or not too often. The strength of a therapist is also the factor that enables him to withstand the attacks of participants at the initial stages of the group. The way the therapist maintains his boundaries is the model for the group’s participants to learn how to maintain theirs.
Existential therapy is the therapy that changes life, and a therapist must genuinely have great strength to change something that has been growing and building over decades.
Requirements applied to a therapist are quite considerable. It is a person of mature, strong individuality, with defined values, with ethical views, a person interested in others. Where can we find such a super-human? It is clear that there are few such people. In fact, the answer is simple – everything a therapist lacks is compensated by the strength of his/her personality, his/her ability to be something greater at work than he/she is in ordinary life.