The science of feelings

The post is about the more vane moments of writing therapists and how they are at their most effective and engaging in these moments of self-absorption. It is humorous that one of Yalom’s key methods of dealing with death, rippling, seems to so readily connect with his own lifestyle. The idea of rippling ‘refers to the fact that each of us creates – often without our conscious intent or knowledge concentric circles of influence that may affect others for years, even for generations.’ It is an effect that people have on other people that is in turn passed on to others for years or even generations we are told.

It is a good concept for dealing with death anxiety but it has to be remarked that it does seem tailor made for Yalom and his lifestyle as a therapist becoming involved for periods of time in many different people’s lives. Many people who are not therapists may have to use their imagination to determine this sometimes almost imperceptible rippling effect that they are having on others but it is palliative nonetheless.

(Below is a picture which I am inserting into this post to show an example of rippling from the film The Place Beyond the Pines. In that film we have an example of the more imperceptible version of rippling. In that Ryan Gosling’s son discovers the dead motorbike bandit’s sunglasses and robs oxycontin from a pharmacy on a bicycle and later buys a motorbike. Not quite robbing banks on a bike but we get it and are moved by the film’s central notion of legacy and rippling. Even if the film doesn’t know what ‘rippling’ is. Perhaps if I leave any of these items around after my death my son will become a badass anti-hero who gets shot one third to half-way through the film)

Yalom refers to himself and his feelings as his instrument or ‘stradivarius of psychotherapy practice’.


Sometimes Yalom really is really unbelievable. In one instance in his his book – ‘Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the fear of Death’ Yalom talks about what offered him consolation when he thought he was dying. He says ‘of all the various ways I tried to find comfort, the most effective turned out to be—oddly enough—reading my own—just-completed novel.’

In the above clip Yalom is concerned about a patient not paying his bill but also in the process manages to draw the patient’s attention to his interpersonal problems.With many patients he remarks that they do not seem interested in what is going on with him and his feelings. In one sense it could be viewed as very self-involved to suggest to a patient that their problem is that they are not interested in you but in another sense it could be viewed as a rich source of information. The ignorance of the patient in the transferential relationship is indicative of their ignorance or lack of care in their relationships with all other people. It seems then that it is where the therapist is at their most self-involved that they can be of most use to the patient.By going into exquisite sensitivity mode and communicating their feelings to the patient they are able to let the patient know exactly how other people experience them interpersonally.

When reading Psychoanalytic literature the point where I really start to pay attention to what I am reading is where it goes something like I don’t have any proof of this but the weight of my twenty or thirty years of clinical experience leads me to believe that such and such is true. Rollo May is particularly hilarious in his introduction of the cave symbol. He says it means a vagina or womb. Why? because it came up as a symbol in his clinical experience. It comes out of a veritable library of symbols garnered from clinical experience.

He introduces the symbol by writing of his experience of ‘dozens of other symbols—’werewolf’, ‘tarantula’s web, ad infinitum which come up in the course of one day’s analytic sessions.’ He gives us then two examples and from which we are to imagine the rest of his experience. It is just this confidence though – this assumption of supreme authority that catches my attention.


I like to imagine the way in which I might introduce some real and worthwhile concept if were I writing such a book about symbols or psychology.This is what I have come up with so far:-


‘I will not be held back by your science. I instead am moved by a greater majesty, a poetic force that means I arrive at the empirical truth by means of scattered anecdotal evidence. But we both know it’s bang on. Remember Kyle McLachlin’s methods in Twin Peaks? The methods were off the wall… but they got results. My experience is like that. LIKE THAT! POW! *Punches palm*’

Karen Maroda demonstrates this by talking about ‘neophyte therapists’ who rely on ‘intellectual formulations’. She suggests that placing a primacy on your feelings and being emotionally available to the patient is where its at. She tells us a couple of things that her supervisor told her that are much more important than therapy ‘book learningz’.




She tells us that the the first remarks a patient makes during a session usually indicate the perceived success or failure of the last session. She suggests that a patient noticing a plant or ornament in her office and inquiring is it new usually reflects internal change. She talk about patients response to sound checks across the road actually relating to her and therapy but only sometimes. How does she know the difference between when she is actually being talked about or not? Through experience. A reference to some 1974 Langs, references to her supervisor and some good old fashioned Breaking Bad  – ‘because I say so’.



Another example of Maroda being big headed (and right!) is where she suggests that part of the reason she was able to not sleep with a particular patient is because she is just so in touch with her own feelings.


Her whole theory of enactment seems to be based on her own high opinion of her feelings and herself.


She suggests that a failure to appreciate the emotional intensity of one’s reactions constitutes the inevitability of enactment. Enactment being when a ‘patient’s attempt to actualize a transference fantasy elicits a countertransference reaction. She says that she has felt murderous rage at patients, wanted to hit them and even throw them out of her office of even her office window. She has wanted scream obscenities at them, make love to them and felt overwhelming grief. She suggests that she works better as a therapist if she just allows the feelings to wash over her and through her.

She closes her piece about enactment by a sort of final elevation of the counter-transference feelings that represent enactment. She suggests that enactment is inevitable and potentially useful and says that the ‘patient and analyst are fated to move each other in mysterious and unplanned ways’ leaving room for accepting being both the recipient and the stimulator of intense, unexpected emotion. Now we’re talking! There’s something about this writing though. It feels right, its probably borne out by her experience and its something actually interesting and useful that you can relate to your own experience and not in some sort of vague way. It’s the same with the other writers that where that are at their busiest self-indulgently rolling around in their lesbian fantasies for their patients or concerned about getting paid that they are doing some of their finest work.


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