A Response to Interview with Catherine O’Dea

by Allison Joyner

Mary de Courcy’s interview with Catherine O’Dea was a beautiful piece of work.  I can’t really explain what touched me so deeply in this interview; it simply resonated within me.  I felt that I was sitting beside Catherine as she spoke.  Serenity, calm and wisdom surrounded me.  Undoubtedly, this was thanks to both Catherine’s honesty and humility and to Mary’s success in bringing together Catherine’s words in such an intimate and flowing style.  Strangely, as Catherine embarks on winding down and letting go, I am at the other end of the spectrum – working my way along to the much prized accreditation!  I have always known within me that this was my path, I feel at home in my work – it is where I too, like Catherine, believe I am supposed to be.

Although, I am a relatively new recruit I am not naïve about the pressures of this profession.  It was good to hear Catherine ask if perhaps there is a time limit to this kind of work.  Indeed, I would have been suspicious if she had not questioned this!  Psychotherapy can be a difficult and challenging road.  I must admit, like Alice Miller, I wonder what it is within us as psychotherapists that attracts us to spend our days trying to discover what is happening in other people’s unconscious.  And while I agree that a thorough awareness of our own past and a full understanding of its impact seem to be fundamental pre-requisites to being able to help others effectively with their therapy, I often wonder how commonplace is this?  And so I sit with my concern, which perhaps only experience may shine light on, how much of ‘my stuff’ do I bring into my sessions with clients?  I believe the danger always exists, for all therapists, of transferring their repressed issues onto their clients, unconsciously using them to fulfill their own unmet needs?  Catherine’s reflection on 15 years passed, initiated my personal reflection on 15 years forward.  What kind of therapist would I be after this length of time?

I am an eternal student so my days of learning are not over but I sincerely hope that I do not become a specialist in specialising!  Miller maintains that in order to become whole we must try, in a long process, to discover our own personal truth.  If we choose instead to content ourselves with intellectual ‘wisdom’ we will remain in the sphere of illusion and self deception.  I had thought that I was an idealist in this world of ever increasing compartmentalisation until I read Catherine’s interview and saw that she had, and still does, work with whoever came in the door.  This is my ideal – that I remain focused on the uniqueness and individuality of each person and not on the labels/symptoms.  Who am I?  That question struggles for air in every session I have, regardless of my client’s status, education or personal background.  It is this frank and living contact with people that I hope remains at the core of my work.

Perhaps I liked the article because Catherine embodied so much of what I hope for myself i.e. to develop a caring wisdom as I work in this field.  In my training, I was constantly learning.  In my work, I hope to understand – to make personal contact with my clients.  I sense that Catherine has certainly developed her intuitive understanding through her years of working with various people.  She recalls how ‘sometimes in a difficult situation I can say things with a bit of gentle humour in the wonderings, and it seems to help my clients’. It is that knowing, that intuitive understanding of what the other needs that comes across in the interview and is something which I aspire to.

This interview was about Catherine, the person rather than the therapist.  How refreshing to hear her talk of the isolation, the need to ‘get myself out’.   Although, I had heard it before, I needed to hear that again.  And so my quest for a dancing partner is on the boil once more (dancing and movement are my release valves).  Catherine speaks of our profession getting in the way of our relationships, being condemned to seeing things unbidden and picking up atmospheres and ‘stuff’ wherever we go.  Before my training, I think I was a therapist to many people.  Now, I like to draw that line between therapist and non-therapist quite clearly.  Like Catherine, I don’t know if we can move away from that place of ‘seeing’ but I try to let it flow without holding and not interfere with my relationships outside of therapy.  It is true; the way we work is such an integral part of how we are in the world.  Socrates said the unaware life is not worth living.  Somewhere, there is a way of living with awareness and yet not to be lured into the paralysis of analysis.  I continue to walk toward this place with openness to receiving whatever lessons life holds for me.

And so I wish Catherine well in her new voyage across the waters.  I am sure she will continue her good work.  I am glad to have read her interview at a point where we are both making exits while simultaneously opening new doors.  I lament that there is not more sharing between experienced therapists and new kids on the block.  Much richness is lost when the twain never meet.  We all need to hear the other’s voice.

I think I shall finish with a pearl of wisdom from a very experienced sage: Shakespeare, who penned it quite beautifully when he wrote:

All the world’s a stage
And all the men and women merely players
They have their exits and their entrances
And one man in his time plays many parts

Allison Joyner


Miller, A.  (1995)  The Drama of Being a Child.  London:  Virago Press.