In this issue
Love and its shadows (free article)
Emmy van Deurzen on existential relationship therapy
Finding the right relationship
Anne Power on whether therapy can help clients find the ‘right’ relationship
Partners becoming parents
Perrine Moran on the transition from being partners into parenthood
What is being in a relationship really like? (free article)
Mary Morgan on why relationships are difficult, and why we might need them
What is 'normal'?
Keith Silvester on the vital role of supervision in challenging stereotypes
Sex in relationships
Stephanie Palin on why sex is an essential element of couples counselling
Games people play
Mark Head on using the drama triangle to understand the therapeutic relationship
Miscommunication: the mother of conflict
Geoff Miles on communication and conflict management in relationships
Relationships and infertility
Gerry McCluskey on the emotional impact of infertility
Mending or ending
Julia Greer on relationship breakdown
Welcome from the editor
The BACP Private Practice division has much to celebrate. In the five years since launching as BACP Private Practice in December 2011, membership has doubled from 2,050 to 4,090, and our annual conference this year attracted the largest audience of any BACP member event in history, with a combined total of 1,431 delegates participating in the ‘live’ event and webcast. I’m really proud to be introducing this post-conference special issue of the journal, which includes articles by the two keynote speakers and eight of the workshop presenters, each of whom, in their own ways, addresses the question posed in the conference title: ‘Relationships: why do we bother?’
Taking place in a world in which – post Brexit and with the rise of Trump in the US, the far-right in Europe and a refugee crisis resulting from civil war and poverty in countries around the globe – relations between nations, ethnicities, religions and socioeconomic groups are strained to near breaking point, the questions posed at the conference of why we bother with relationships, and what might make for healthier ones, are more pressing than ever. As Emmy van Deurzen, writing from an existential perspective, points out: ‘Life, even at the best of times, is a continuous balancing act between a positive and negative pole of existence.’
At a time of such potentially cataclysmic global crisis, a criticism sometimes levelled at counselling and psychotherapy, working, as they do, on an individual, micro level, is that they don’t do enough to tackle conflict, inequality and injustice in the world. Actually, I think, working relationally, as we do, with individuals and couples, we are uniquely placed to help our clients to address the differences and difficulties they experience between themselves and their partners on a daily basis – not recoiling from conflicts, but encouraging, as van Deurzen writes, ‘partners who are struggling with their relationship to become more aware of the unspoken ambiguity between them’. In this way, person by person, hour by hour, by helping individuals to communicate more effectively in their relationships – to really listen to what their partner is saying, and experience being heard – the ripples of those small individual changes spread out into the world.
From van Deurzen’s existential scene setting, the subsequent nine ‘Conference Special Features’, follow a narrative arc from the beginnings of an adult attachment bond, through the place of sex in the couple relationship, the transition from being a couple into becoming parents, the emotional impact of infertility, communication and conflict management and what happens when relationships break down.
Along the way, from a psychoanalytic perspective, Mary Morgan explores both the reasons why relationships are difficult, and why, despite (and perhaps because of) the challenges of relating, we might need them. Challenging the romantic view of relationships embedded deep in our psyches, she sheds light on the part of us that doesn’t want to engage with another, and how being with another who is different and separate from us, is always a challenge: ‘Being with another means being changed by the other, and unless there are brick wall defences against the impact of the other, we inevitably are.’
Keith Silvester contributes an important article on gender and sexual diversity, arguing that supervision has a vital role to play in challenging received heteronormative stereotypes and assumptions about what constitutes a healthy relationship. And, from a transactional analysis perspective, Mark Head explores how Berne’s drama triangle can be used to understand what goes on between counsellor and client in the therapeutic relationship.
A wide range of questions familiar to us all from our client work are asked and answered within these pages. What is being in a relationship really like? Why do couples stay together when one or both of them are unhappy? Am I normal? What am I here for, if not to contribute to the continuation of the human race? What choices do couples have when things are not going well in their relationship? I hope, like me, you will find much food for thought. Do write to me at the email address below to let me know what you think.
Finally, returning to where I began, the phenomenal rate of growth of BACP Private Practice across the past five years, perhaps reflects an increase in the numbers of practitioners working in private practice, as jobs in the statutory and voluntary sectors have become scarcer due to funding cuts. It might also indicate a growing need among independent practitioners for tools and resources tailored specifically for this vital sector of the profession. As a divisional member, you will have recently received an email with a link to a short survey that will help BACP to understand what you value about being a member of BACP Private Practice, and how you feel you might be even better supported by the division in the future. The survey closes at 5pm on 23 December 2016. Please make sure you take part.
- John Daniel