As most of you won’t have noticed, I haven’t written for a while. I couldn’t think of anything to say. Taken as a whole this blog is fairly bleak and I noticed the most popular posts were generally the ones in which I lay bare painful autobiographical detail or describe the traumatic experiences of children I have looked after. There is value in telling these stories of course, but I think it started to skew the way I was thinking about my work and my own past – as if it was all just material to write about. I gradually became uncomfortable with this.
I noticed too that my more reflective posts, in which I explore abstract thoughts and ideas – especially if I strayed too far into psychotherapeutic concepts or “jargon” – were less popular. Worrying about all this, I think, gave me writers block of sorts. I lost sight of why I was writing it in the first place. Then I remembered I could write about what I wanted and it really didn’t matter if hardly anyone read it. So here goes…
I should confess, the phrase “boredom in the counter-transference” is not my own, although I really wish it was. It was a throwaway remark by a tutor on my college course and play on the title of a paper by Donald Winnicott called “Hate in the Counter-Transference” (more of which later).
Very simply, counter-transference is a term from psychoanalysis which refers to the emotional responses the client evokes in the therapist. More generally it can be used to mean the feelings a child/adult evokes in a carer/social worker etc. It is very important to be aware of, and think about, these feelings – otherwise we may act them out in our relationship with the child.
In Hate in the Counter-Transference (which was written in the late 1940’s) Winnicott suggests that the popularity of electric shock treatments and lobotomies, as methods of treating psychotics at that time, was more to do with psychiatrists acting-out their unacknowledged feelings of hate towards their patients than any evidence that they were effective treatments.
Winnicott, for those that might not know, was a paediatrician and child psychotherapist of great acclaim, whose theories and humane writings are still considered to be of great value today. Interestingly, in the same paper he describes “three months of hell” fostering a traumatised boy during the war. Winnicott explains how, during the six year-old boy’s “maniacal attacks”, he would physically manhandle him out of the front door and leave him outside irrespective of time of day or weather. The boy had a bell he could ring when he had calmed down. Winnicott describes this not as an example of bad practice but as a legitimate therapeutic intervention. I wonder what Ofsted would say?
Gemma, a 13 year-old girl, is not allowed to smoke. This may seem self-evident but we look after plenty of older teenagers where we have essentially given up on that particular battle. Gemma’s social worker is very keen that we do all we can to stop her smoking. Gemma is determined to smoke. I am regularly kicked and slapped when I take cigarettes out of her mouth – even this is only possible if I am quick enough – otherwise we end up in pointless and futile games of chase around the trampoline in the garden.
She is not allowed out of the house on her own – due to strong suspicions of her involvement with a local child sexual exploitation ring. Nevertheless, Gemma runs out of the house several times a day in order to roam the streets asking strangers for cigarettes. We can’t lock the door – it is not a secure unit, we can’t restrain her to stop her leaving – there aren’t strong enough grounds and anyway, because of her past experience of sexual abuse and being pimped out by her own mother, restraint is to traumatising for her and only to be used when she is actively hurting herself. So when she runs, all I can do is follow.
Follow her as she climbs over fences, runs through hedges, hides behind cars, and – when I get close to her – kicks and punches me and calls me a pervert. It’s a game really – if she manages to get away and get a cigarette she feels that she has won. Sometimes I lose her and she is back at the home before me. She mocks me for not finding her and tells me how rubbish I am.
I don’t feel annoyed when this happens, I don’t feel concerned, I don’t feel anything other than mind numbing boredom. Jaded by experience and the knowledge that it will make no difference – we wont stop her smoking and if anything our attempts to do so are giving it a greater allure. And putting her at greater risk.
This effects how I respond – she calls me a pervert and I pretend to yawn. I tell her I have being doing the job for as long as she has been alive and have been called a pervert many times – I tell her it’s not going to work. She threatens me or hits me and tell her I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I was scared of little girls.
What am I doing? I am virtually daring her to up-the-ante, I am telling her she is inconsequential and I am not taking her seriously. The constant references to “my job” come with the implicit suggestion that it is “just a job”.
I wonder what Donald Winnicott would say?