Channel 5 has recently run a reality TV series showing celebrities in therapy with psychotherapist Mandy Saligari. In Episode 2 we see Daniella Westbrook arriving an hour late for her session. Mandy challenges Daniella to consider why she was late to which Daniella reacts defensively (and avoids taking responsibility for it, blaming it on the production crew). Daniella reacts angrily and decides to leave saying she doesn’t understand why this is important to the work. Later, reflecting on the session she looks at what was going on for her and uncovers that she was avoiding uncovering some of the painful feelings that she had been denying and pushing deep down.
This highlights the point that often in therapy we learn something about the way we are from something that goes on in the therapy; either from our behaviour or from our relationship with our therapist.
Whilst in therapy we often place focus on what has happened in our past and the impact that has on the present, but it can also be useful to look at our behaviour and reactions to what is going on in the ‘here and now’ in the therapy room. Gestalt therapy for example places heavy importance on this and in particular looks at the reactions in the body during therapy. A common example is that people often exhibit self-soothing body language when discussing painful feelings and experiences such as by stroking their arm or hands. Others show frustration by tapping their foot, or anger and shame by inflicting pain upon themselves (by pinching themselves or pulling on their hair for example). This behaviour acts as a subtle indicator of (perhaps hidden) intense emotions. Often this behaviour is unconscious and when it is pointed out by the therapist can be surprising and revealing to the client.
The reason that this is highlighted by the therapist is to increase the clients self-awareness. If we have better understanding of our emotions and behaviour this helps us in our journey of self-discovery.