The Violence of Interpretation

I know this is an intense title. Just stick with me for a minute. I chose the word "violence" because it feels most appropriate, although it is important to understand that what we are talking about here is incredibly subtle.   In my work as a clinician, and as a therapist in private practice, I found early on that I love applying my mind, my subtle perception, and everything I've studied, experienced and know about human development and the human condition, to the presenting issue that has brought someone to therapy. There is a kind of perception going on in the consulting room that transcends that of everyday interactions. My whole body feels like an instrument, and most importantly, my heart feels like an embodied (and somehow, simultaneously, a metaphysical) place that can develop the most refined and important perception of all.   There is immense satisfaction, for me (selfishly), in finding that I am able to help someone understand a longstanding life issue in a radically new way, or that I am able to assist others in expanding their awareness of the true etiology of a current pain point, and in so doing, shift it at the root.   In an ideal situation, I facilitate these subtle goals of therapy by skillfully guiding and nudging, and by trying my best to keep any current, working interpretation as a moving, living hypothesis, alive with what Einstein called holy curiosity. I should get into the tail of each client's healing comet, as it were, and track them, validate them, support them, mirror them (accurately and lovingly), and hold my lantern next to theirs as we make our way through a dark forest to the client's final arrival at their own answers, their own embodied epiphanies about who they are, and how things came to be as they are. Ideally, the client should be the white rabbit, and I should be Alice, trying to discover where it is the rabbit is headed, and continuing to follow the rabbit on its own adventure.   This is one dimension of good psychotherapy. There is another dimension, though. Each client lives in a subjective world, and I also live in a subjective world. Rather than trying to pull the client into my "correct" or "professional" subjective understanding, I should try to get as much into their understanding as I can, and join them there, and then together, join our understandings in order to arrive at a somewhat more objective understanding. Both of us are transformed. My understanding of this is very visual. I imagine each subjective understanding as an enclosed understanding "on the ground," as it were, and the new, more objective understanding that we will arrive at together, as a third enclosed understanding, above and between the original two.   And yet there is another dimension. As I track and follow each client in their process, I am putting pieces together, and I am starting to "see" things that they perhaps do not see. At times, I imagine that it may be the right moment to offer to the client what it is that I "see," in order to assist them in expanding their awareness into their unknown unknowns (we all have them). Read: an interpretation. I have noticed that the responses to this can vary.   On the one hand, this kind of offered interpretation is received almost as an epiphany, or the facilitator of an epiphany of some kind. At other times, it is received as if I am a violinist in a symphony orchestra who showed up to rehearsal without having tuned my instrument. In other words, it feels discordant. It does not "resonate".  In both cases, I am fairly convinced that people are far more sensitive and subtly aware than they give themselves credit for, and that these acts of interpretation can be perceived as the most subtle affront, or the most subtle danger.  Even when the interpretation "resonates," it is almost like finding that someone can see through your clothes, or they can see through your closet door and have some sense of what is behind it.  I concede that even when the interpretation does not "resonate," it may very well be right on target. (Interesting to note that the first synonyms that come up for "accurate" in the dictionary are "precise," "on target," "unerring," "deadly," and, "lethal".)   Let me explain. Many schools of psychotherapeutic thought, and even some contemplative traditions, include some rendition of the idea that we each contain an internal community, or an internal committee. Some of these internal "parts" might be more accurately referred to even as "fragments" (aspects of self that split off at various intervals in early life, while we were being socialized). The psyche seems to organize itself in such a way that the fragments, or parts, that we learned were not desirable and would not guarantee our ongoing access to safety and love, were buried, pushed into the closet, repressed, rejected, denied, disowned (however you want to say it). They are pushed away from the front-side (conscious) personality that constructs itself in order to survive well in its environment. (Note that this process is taking place most dramatically in childhood, and many of us grew up in early environments that caused us to develop adaptations that actually would not be adaptive in the world outside the home, but there's not enough space for that subject here.)   I propose that when an interpretation does not resonate at all, or even especially, when there is a strong negative reaction to it, it may be that the defenses of the front-side, conscious personality are springing up in order to keep that fragment in the closet. To the conscious, front-side personality, this kind of interpretation is received as a dollop of ketchup on an ice cream sundae. It does not resonate, it does not go together, and the immediate reaction is repulsion in some form. And, of course, there is always the possibility that I am wrong. **Insert tears of laughter emoji**   This is why therapists have to be incredibly skilled in getting all of the client feeling safe and on board early on, even naming that there may be moments when therapy begins to represent every place your conscious, day-to-day personality does not want to go. I consider the resistance to awareness, or integration, in this case, or "the wall," as another "part" of the self that deserves to be lovingly worked with and understood, just like all the other "parts". It is also useful to clarify early on (even during the first consultation call) that this is the kind of work I do, and to ensure that my ideal clients are able to push through the discomfort that can arise in the early stages, and to ensure that they have some sense that the process will ultimately be incredibly rewarding. I have to quote Jung here to give some sense of the treasure hidden in the parts of our selves that we relegate to shadow, or to the unconscious: The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.   There is a place for interpretation in therapy. I try to pass each interpretation or hunch through my heart before I offer it, checking that the intention of offering it is to propel the client along on their path, not to impress or wow them with my high-powered perception. (Hey, I'm human. We all have to check our intentions regularly. Daily.) The ultimate goal is integration, becoming who we truly are, what Jung called individuation. I view it as a process of soul-making; a process that deeply, unspeakably enriches the life of anyone called to begin it. Click the link below to schedule a free 20-minute consultation call with me to find out more. Schedule/Reschedule a Free Consultation Call Here