Workshop Review: The Psychotherapist as Instrument of Soul Development

Facilitated by Regina Reilly at Ursuline School, Cork: 1 – 3 June 2013

Reviewed by Fiona Clothier

Regina Reilly, founding director of the Transpersonal Counselling Centre of the John F. Kennedy University of California, facilitated this workshop on a June bank holiday weekend. She spoke of how we develop different attachment styles to cope with our early life as a ‘soul’ or ‘consciousness’ which inhabits a physical body and is dependent on others for survival. She said, “The infant must attach to survive and will adapt to the needs and vulnerabilities of the caregiver.” Various attachment styles can develop, such as: the secure, the avoidant, the ambivalent and the disorganised. Regina mentioned a book by David J. Walling: Attachment in Psychotherapy (Guildford Press, 2007), for further reading. She proceeded to explain how the soul pushes for growth and healing and how this can take place in the crucible of the therapeutic relationship.

As participants, we were invited to submit a concise summary of our work with a client that we would like some guidance with. Regina then chose from these examples ways of working with different styles of attachment. We were also invited to explore what our own attachment style might be. From the material presented I decided the ambivalent attachment style described my own adapted way of relating.

In summary, the child learns to survive by meeting her caregiver’s needs and becomes alienated from her own. Interestingly my client was chosen to demonstrate this style. I was invited to enact being him and Regina worked with me as a therapist while course participants observed. It proved to be illuminating. When I was this client I experienced myself as wanting to merge with Regina and I felt frustrated when she highlighted our differences. When Regina enquired, “How would it be to ask me to help you with your anxiety?” I couldn’t do so because I feared experiencing the disappointment that she couldn’t or wouldn’t help. In any case I thought she should know what I wanted because I believed it was obvious. I wanted to melt into her and I experienced the highlighting of our separateness as uncomfortable. I believed I knew what she was thinking by looking at her and I dared not check this out by asking with the risk of being told I was intrusive.

Hearing feedback from Regina on how she felt ‘invisible’ and ‘rejected’ whilst also ‘pulled on’ by me as a client resonated with my experience of my own client. In any future work together I could see how important it would be for me to help this client become more aware of his style of contacting and of how he was not getting the contact he ultimately wanted. He was, in fact, preventing relationship by protecting himself from the pain of being abandoned, by staying enmeshed.

This experiential training helped me understand my own attachment style better and to recognise different attachment styles and how I might work with them. After this workshop I have a stronger appreciation of my need for on-going personal development work if I am to work at relational depth as a therapist.

Fiona Clothier graduated with a Higher Diploma in Gestalt Therapy from the Irish Gestalt Centre this summer.