Anne is reading Client-Centered Therapy by Carl Rogers (1951). Here are a couple bits she told me about that surprised me.
Rogers asked Miss Cam, one of his clients, to document her experience in therapy. After her fourth session she reported that she was finding it increasingly difficult to reflect on the therapeutic process:
” My energies are pretty well tied up in whatever process is going on, and it takes a tremendous effort to observe and record the proces: my instinct or impulse, or what have you, is all against analyzing and self-regarding — I’m much inclined to leave myself alone and just enjoy the results, or let them wash over me when I don’t enjoy them: some way or other, the whole counseling process seems to militate against any sort of introspection or preoccupation with self.”
Rogers makes this observation about his client’s reflections:
The client is, in the therapeutic hour, focusing all her attention upon self, to a degree that she has probably never known before. Yet this situation is experienced as a process which leads away from preoccupation with self. The question is worth raising as to whether therapy is not an experiencing of self, not an experience about self.
This speaks to a concern I expressed in my last post, that encouraging someone to talk about herself might just feed the addiction, encourage the obsession with oneself. Self-absorption is a way of reifying the ego as an object with a particular personality, status, self-image, history, resume of accomplishments, set of problems, plans for the future, etc. But maybe, if somebody is ready to listen to you regardless of your self-proclaimed right to be heard, you can get past all that.
During the fourth session Miss Cam experienced Rogers as “present” to her, indispensible to her happiness, someone with whom she entered into “a communion, a mutuality.” The next session didn’t go as well, and her reactions to Rogers were completely different:
“So flat and hopeless, like being up against a flat blank wall — immovable, impenetrable, unscalable, a dead end to life and growth, a sterile, uncaring wall of mystery cutting me off from myself… You might just as well not be there for all the good you can do… But you see, last time your face suddenly looked different — as if it had been black with coal dust, and then was washed clean to reveal an altogether unexpected freshness and individuality… And there’s something awfully wrong and confusing about the way you look to me now. I keep wanting to rub my eyes, as if I were brushing away cobwebs. And I’d like to wash your face. I can see it with black coal dust, and it’s a little relief to imagine taking lots of soap and water and a nice rough cloth and washing it shiny clean.”
Now Rogers consciously presents himself as pleasantly engaged and supportive in these sessions, without revealing much about himself. Miss Cam’s description of him during this fifth session illustrates, says Rogers, the strenuous process of alteration of self… a basic and extensive reorganization of self. Rogers says that clients often perceive others, including the therapist, in the same way that they perceive themselves. He regards this alternation in Miss Cam’s perceptions of him as pure projection. But isn’t it possible that Rogers is always unconsciously projecting himself as both personas, as the supportive, reflective guide in the voyage of self-discovery, and the unresponsive, indifferent blank wall? The client attunes to one virtual Carl Rogers on visit four, and the other one on visit five.
Miss Cam continued reflecting on her fifth session later in the day, which took the form of a visual image of Rogers’ face:
“As I looked at your face, it was as if a hand reached out and quite literally peeled a heavy shadow away from it, revealing the fresh, individual face which I was so disappointed to lose this afternoon. It was the most extraordinarily vivid experience, it wouldn’t be at all adequate to say it was like a hallucination — it was a hallucination. Not the face, that is, that was just a vivid memory, but the shadow of my own feelings, which I had projected on it… And that explains the haunting, but elusive sense I’ve had of something odd and baffling in your appearance, so that I’ve been torn between nervous reluctance to look at you, and a desire to stare and stare in hopes of dispelling the enigma. Then there were two or three times when I would have sworn you laughed, but when I looked you were perfectly sober, and you quite obviously hadn’t and couldn’t have been even smiling. And on one of those occasions when I looked at you, something seemed to move rapidly from your face towards my left hand and disappear.”
Rogers said he was surprised that Miss Cam found this fifth session to have been so intense, and so different from the prior one. Though he regarded Miss Cam’s hallucinations as unusual, he wasn’t particularly disturbed by them.
In general, in clients undergoing drastic self-reorganization, behaviors which would be labeled as ‘psychotic’ from a diagnostic frame of reference are encountered with some frequency. When one sees these behaviors from the internal frame of reference their functional meaning appears so clear that it becomes incomprehensible that they should be regarded as symptoms of a ‘disease.’ To regard all behavior as the meaningful attempt of the organism to adjust to itself and to its environment — this appears more fruitful for understanding personality processes than to try to categorize some behaviors as abnormal, or as constituting disease entities.
Here Rogers’ observations remind me both of Lacan and of Deleuze & Guattari. Lacan reinterprets symptoms as expressions of the unconscious trying to make itself heard and accepted by the Big Other, who is represented by the therapist. And Deleuze & Guattari speak of this radical restructuring of the self as “schizoanalysis,” a kind of controlled psychotic process. The self becomes “deterritorialized,” stripped of its usual ways of understanding itself, temporarily blurring the boundaries between inside and outside, between self and other. It’s only by undergoing this schizoid experience that the self is able to “reterritorialize” itself in some less repressive way.
I’ve been thinking about Rogers as kind of a square. Maybe I’m wrong.