Membranes (Not Barriers) for Therapists
The highly technical world of waterproof outdoor clothing baffles me. I want something that will keep the rain out, the warmth in and allow any ‘glistening’ that I produce to escape. To this end, I am informed that what I require is a membrane and not a barrier: a fabric that will allow some elements to pass through in either direction rather than stop all movement between inside and outside. It makes perfect sense.
As I reflect on my practice, I recognise the same distinction in the way we can experience relationships. The way we are impacted by others – their feelings, their expressions, their words and actions – is dependent on the membrane or barrier between us. In practising therapy, I am engaged in the very essence of this world. It is like a petri dish where we pay close attention to the effect and impact of the presence of two people.
Our ability to be moved by another is dependent on whether we let them in or not, our openness and vulnerability. Much of the way we respond is unconscious; not so much a decision as a way of being. When engaged in a therapeutic encounter, it is useful to explore this. People have a sense of when there is an exchange of energy, when they are truly met, when there is an authentic connection between themselves and another.
There are some elements we need barriers against – those that would seek to wound us and cause us harm – but once erected, I wonder if the barriers can stop the other elements such as appreciation, love, curiosity. How do I receive sincere appreciation of my presence? How do I respond to the expression of my positive effect on the world when I am guarding against producing a negative effect? After wounding, barriers seem to be the best solution. What if a more sophisticated membrane would do the job better?
I am seeing my growth as a therapist as a constant process of adjusting the membranes between myself and others. There is a giving of myself that is vital in creating a connection and a space where transformation is possible. That two-way flow of energy is only possible when the barriers are taken down.