Encounters with Humiliation in the Therapeutic Relationship
With Dr Doris Brothers, Jane Haberlin and Professor Andrew Samuels
Recorded Saturday 3 July 2021
Shame is often felt to be one of the most excruciating emotions, perhaps because it threatens one’s deepest sense of being loveable. For many, a sudden sense of having been inappropriate is embarrassing.
But for someone who has never felt certain of their worth, a minor encounter with personal limitations can feel like a catastrophic reminder of one’s supposed inadequacy: of being insufficient, not quite what’s wanted, unacceptable.READ MORE...
Where that sense of self has origins in early childhood, any ensuing self-repulsion may be hard to transcend. A viable defense against shame is, understandably, to avoid intimacy.
When shame occurs in the therapy session, the intensity of that experience is greatly amplified. Shame, of course, is shameful in itself. To feel exposed, uncovered or found out by the therapist, especially when there is an idealized or parental transference at play, can be deeply humiliating. Furthermore, when a shaming event is experienced in the context of a countertransference enactment – in a momentary lapse of empathy or even an attack on the patient – such moments can rupture the therapy. When they overlap with inequalities of power and privilege, that injury is compounded. How can moments be worked through and turned into an opportunity for self-acceptance? Will our speakers agree that one of the goals of therapy is to become shameless?
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Dr Doris Brothers
The shrug: an encounter with mutually embodied shame
In her book Toward a Psychology of Uncertainty: Trauma-Centered Psychoanalysis (Routledge, 2008), Doris offered a clinical vignette that centered on the devastating effects of a spontaneous and irritable bodily gesture she made to a patient in the form of a dismissive shrug. In this presentation, she revisits that encounter in an attempt to show how their mutual examination of the experience from an embodied perspective led to a shared understanding of the excruciating feelings of shame that the patient had experienced. When the therapeutic couple resumed their relationship after an absence, transformations in their experience of shame greatly deepened their connectedness.
Q&A with Dr Doris Brothers
Professor Andrew Samuels
How equal is ‘equal’? Power, privilege and the shameful shadow of the wounded healer
Every time a therapist uses the word ‘equality’ difficulties arise. People prefer words like ‘mutuality’ or ‘mutual recognition’. Such ambivalences exist in politics as well. Differences in power, privilege and entitlement in the socio-political world do not trace off perfectly onto therapy – but they are heavily present nonetheless because they have colonised our minds. It is possible to disrupt the power binary of therapist – client by referring to the therapist as a Wounded Healer. But that, too, brings problems of shame in its wake. In the talk, Andrew deepens the debate by extending his ideas on ‘democratic spirituality’ and ‘political style’ into the therapy situation.
Q&A with Professor Andrew Samuels
Beam me up, Scotty!
The rapidly changing social environment presents significant challenges for the therapist: on the one hand, social media has facilitated an explosion of excitement around shame which has ushered in shamelessness. On the other, the empowerment of those previously on the margins has allowed rules to be rejected and for internalized shame – whether about the ideal body, race, class – to be diluted and reframed. Ignorance of these changing social mores and the fast-moving debate around identity politics can cause the therapist to find themselves in an unfamiliar landscape of mutual projective processes. Here, both client and therapist can become dysregulated by their own feelings of shame. Jane will include clinical vignettes to illustrate how such experiences can be negotiated, understood and resolved.
Q&A with Jane Haberlin
All panel Q&A