Poetics of the Therapeutic Relationship

Kripi Malviya

Words are the life source of therapy. The space between a therapist and the person they are working with is co-created for a revelation of the self through, words. It is through the speaker’s choice, flow and idiosyncrasies of language that they make themselves known and the listener in the case of therapy is intent on the structure itself: what is omitted, what is repeated, what is insisted and what is merely whispered. What life experiences and situations are connected to the undulations and utterance of particular statements is a priority to unpack in this intense relationality, that is committed to unearthing our most intimate and unconscious ways of being.

Much like a poet has a ‘all in one’ and a ‘one to all’ subject they are addressing; the therapist is everyone the client has ever encountered; a pouring space of words (spoken and unspoken) mirroring the dynamics of all pivotal relationships in a persons’ life. This emotional projection is curated carefully; a distillation encapsulating the essence of the personal, past and present relationships that are playing out with the therapist- an undertaking synonymous with the writing of poetry. The therapist meanwhile is listening to the intention, the lexicon, the flow and the blockage of the words being spoken to them; wondering internally and asking: why was this difficult to say? what makes this narration so sharp and vivid? why is this part of your life spoken of in such scarcity and others in such abundance? The volume of words and the keenness with which to repeat a well formulated story is telling us that it is a disguise as much as it is a known truth.

Like a poem which is ageless, disclosing to us who we are each and every different time we encounter it: the words are portals of the person’s life story and therefore not to be taken for granted and deeper beyond face value. They are not just traces to the deeper multi layered reality but the portrait itself, not just feelings expressed but denials cloaked. The truth then lies not just within the story told but it is a gateway to the world of the person telling it. The journey is then taken to the contextual landscape of culture, family, social, economic, religious, racial and gender realities that the story and its teller are situated in and birthed from. Our idioms constitute a deeply unique pattern that serves as a guide to the inner workings of our minds. The defence mechanisms, schemas and traumas in response to our lives maybe shared, universal or collective but the way in which we unfold is our individual signature.

Growth and the inevitability of change is also illuminated in the language of the person undergoing therapy. It is reflected in their evolving perceptions to their formative and ongoing relationships, memories re-experienced in the midst of the therapeutic alliance. Each therapeutic relationship has its own distinctive vernacular, special to the ones who inhabit it, unrepeatable and exclusive: through the upheaval and unearthing, moments of quiet togetherness, empathy in motion, realisations both familiar and painful and unfamiliar and fearful, through unmet expectations and challenges of trust and faith. In the urgency of understanding, the need to communicate, the simultaneity of unmasking are a great search for words. Like in poetry, as in therapy: words are searched for, written, and spoken with meticulous dedication to the courageous ownership of ourselves.