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carehelping practices (1)

Whether you're a professional, semi-pro, or natural caregiver and helper (consultant, coach, friend, lover, etc.), there are some interesting things to be aware of if you want to develop a mature ("fearless") practice. This is a complex topic when it comes to the relationship of fear and fearlessness to ethics, and a book or two needs to be written some day on that. However, in the mean time, of practical matters, I did find a starting thread of wisdom from a pretty interesting practitioner/writer by the name of Cedar Barstow, in a very readable book Right Use of Power: The Heart of Ethics (A Resource for the Helping Professional) (2008, Many Realms Publishing, Boulder, CO). I was particularly pleased in finding this book on a shelf at a house I am currently staying in Courtenay, BC, where the author Barstow uses Ken Wilber's (integral theory) substantially for her model of ethical development. Very cool.

I picked one page from the book to share here (in extract adaptations) around the issue of "counter-transference" issues in helping relationships. The theory and research done on how clients react to helpers and how helpers then react to client's reactions is one of an important piece of understanding to gain and mastery to utilize effectively. I'll not elaborate on all that here unless you ask (also feel free to elaborate for all of us on the FMning if you wish in your own Comments). To say the least, there is an enormous interchange of visible and invisible affect between people in helping relationships and most of us in these has a lot to learn about that.

The issue of counter-transference (as driver and dynamic of perceptions, thoughts, and actions), I will add, is a topic I have researched for a long time going back to my dissertation years when I gave a paper at a conference on the topic and how researchers (of all kinds) also need to be aware of their counter-transference with certain topics under the research lens (of course, I was taking the example of researching "fear itself" as a subject). Again, I won't go into that here. 

So, Barstow (2008, p. 131; citing J. M. Watkin's work) interestingly outlines 6 major issues/problems/challenges in counter-transference processes, which she calls "patterns" (and I easily could call them all technically 'fear' patterns; Counselor's Fears, is another way of saying it simplistically) [bold added for emphasis other than the beginning of the sentences]: 

"(1) Being overprotective of client. A client can trigger the counselor's fears. The counselor steers the client away from areas that trigger the counselor's painful material [unhealed painful memories = 'fear' patterns]... [I used to call this the core of all co-dependency patterns that are unhealthy in relationships, that is, the agreed obvious or the yet discovered agreement made between two people (or more) that goes something like this: "I promise not to bring up your fears if you don't bring up mine." ]

(2) Treating clients in benign ways. The counselor has fears of the client's anger. To guard against this anger, the counselor creates superficiality ... [reduces to] friendly conversation"... [this is more or less, "fear of destructivity" - pain, loss, deconstruction, etc.]

(3) Rejection of clients. The counselor, seeing the client as needy and dependent, moves away, remains cools and aloof, and does notlet the client get too close" [this is more or less "fear of intimacy" as problem for the counselor; that is, not trusting themselves in the depths of the world of intimacy with anyone]

(4) Need for reinforcement and approval. The counselor needs to be reassured of their effectiveness. If the client is not getting better, the counselor has fears and self doubts." [this is more or less "fear of failure"]

(5) Seeing self in the client. The counselor [over-]identifies with the client to the point of losing objectivity. They may see in the client traits that the counselor dislikes in themself. A 'difficult' client [is labeled]..." [and often rejected or abandoned by the counselor, more or less subtlely] [this is more or less "fear of one's shadow" and/or another's shadow]

(6) Development of sexual or romantic feelings. The counselor can exploit the vulnerable position of the client, consciously or unconsciously." [this is more or less "fear of losing control" and becoming subordinated to the power of the client]

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For as useful as this awareness is, there is still a much larger context we need to bring into an integrally aware caregiving/helping practice-- it is not just about "me" and "them" (or "you" or "we") it is also about the "world" (all the contexts, systems, of which I and we operate) (especially, if one is a "cultural therapist" as I claim for myself)-- that's what Wilber calls the "It" of the triad with "I" and "We" perspectives. Okay, may this awareness bring forward more dialogue on the role of fear (and of course, dialectically, fearlessness) in helping practices. This is core foundational work in my experience, and those that avoid it (the above) are more or less caught in "fear of ethics" -- and that's a higher level problem isn't it?

I did note in scanning this entire book by Barstow that she uses "fear" sparingly throughout and does not use "fearlessness" at all. I always thought that any integral theory and developmental map/design of ethical development has to be based on fearlessness (i.e., more or less non-fear-based)--and likewise any helping/caring that is healthy in the long run. Of course, the practical world is one filled with people "helping" and "caring" and "loving" by means that are less than fearlessness. That is a serious problem to overcome, without condemning anyone for 'where they are at', in my view. 

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