11 October 2012

Does Therapy Work? By Jane Barclay - Book review

Does Therapy Work? by Jane Barclay
A book review, with Q&A with the author

"You're going to be my father, lover, brother, friend."

"I wish all my clients knew that," replied Sam.

Appreciation at last. Special.

"I know I'm going to try and seduce you," I announced a few weeks later.

"Then let's make a deal, that we don't have sex."

We shook hands and smiled at each other.

Then my campaign began.

This excerpt from the book is printed on the blurb on the back and I found it quite different to what's usually on the back of therapy books.  Does Therapy Work? could be the title of a dry and research-laden pile of boring dirge that I would possibly have forced myself to read whilst in training. The snippet on the back however, promises something fleshier and most definitely more tantalising than a tome of empirical research and justifications that the most reductionist of therapies - CBT - is the only one proven to work (...yawn...).

A great brain

I have met Jane Barclay at counsellor network meetings and I like her. She is very professional and intelligent and I like the way her mind works. She did a very interesting talk on sex addiction and it is clear from the way she talks that her mind works on lots of differing levels simultaneously. I wish this could be measured as I think that it is the sign of a great counsellor. There are so many differing levels going on in the therapeutic relationship - the client's stuff, the counsellor's stuff, the effect on each other, background knowledge of the physiology/neurology/biochemistry of the interactions and emoting, psychodynamic models - there are a myriad of ways of looking at what is going on, which is a skill applied deftly by the truly integrative counsellor. (For more information on this see The Seven Level Model outlined by Petruska Clarkson - one of the frameworks that is used by integrative counsellors to give their work coherence.)

Jane is also a huge Irvin Yalom fan so I know she has great taste in books. I liked the look of Does Therapy Work? so was eager to get stuck into it.

I was also slightly (very slightly) worried in case I didn't enjoy the book and she might ask me for feedback...

An engaging read

Well, a few pages into it I was excited to find that I was very much engaged. She hooked me in with Part One which is split into The Component Parts and Struggle and Suffering. Jane writes about the therapist in training and the requirement to engage in personal therapy. She explores the therapeutic relationship from differing perspectives, drawing from neurology and attachment theory to explain how we form habits in our thoughts and behaviours and the difficulties in therapeutic change, and also refers to her personal therapy, although this is written about much more extensively in Part Two - Demonstration. Jane also writes about our cultural influences, from child-rearing manuals to society's version of happiness. A sample paragraph:

"...it is this very need for attachment to and dependence upon others that carries the greatest risk of disappointment, of betrayal, of experiencing primeval terror of abandonment and helplessness. When out of balance and frozen in conflict, the dual needs for trusting connection and self-reliance can potentially generate the very greatest suffering and lead to infinitely more creative ways of trying to escape this state that actually perpetuate it. Negotiating for balance is a way of living that I call Autonomous Independence which begins at birth and continues up to and including our last heartbeat, breath and synaptic impulse."

Indeed I like this phrase "Autonomous Dependence" as a way of describing the successful straddling of the apparently conflicting needs we have to retain our sense of self amidst the urge to merge with others. 

A book about the power of authentic relationship

This theme is revisited in Part Two where Jane describes the therapeutic relationship between her and her therapist, Sam, a remarkable sounding man. What I very much value about this book is Jane's risk-taking in describing her innermost fears and thoughts in the actual process of her therapy. This is very different to talking about the various approaches and techniques associated with counselling This is a narrative about the very unique meeting of two very unique individuals, which is exactly what every counsellor/client relationship actually is. We can research this and measure that but these are just reductionist constructs which take away the soul of what can be the most authentic and beautiful, if somewhat intense and at times uncomfortable, therapeutic relationship.

Jane shares her secrets, her shadow side, her shame,  sexual jealousies, babyishness and excruciating vulnerabilities in this gripping, moving account of authentic therapeutic process. This is not fluffy counselling, this is bold, visceral relationship. 

Any gripes? I was slightly disappointed with how quickly I finished the book, at just over 100 pages long. That said, there isn't any waffle to cut through. It's 101 pages of pure-spun gold.

In reading Does Therapy Work? I learned that Jane is at heart, like me akin to a Romantic Scientist - valuing scientific research but intent on looking at the whole of the human being, the whole of the relationship.

I wanted to ask some questions

I emailed Jane and asked if she would kindly consider answering a few questions regarding the book. She generously obliged and here follows my questions and her answers

Amanda: How would you describe your theoretical orientation?

Jane: Happy to state that I hate this question! Always have, feel boxed in. The closest I can get is to call how I work ‘Integrative Life Work’.

Amanda: What were your motivations for writing this book? 

Jane: Early on in therapy, I felt compelled to write to stay sane. I simply couldn’t hold all that was flooding in my head/body. Turning what I’d written into a book was a long (ten year) process, as I shaped and re-shaped (loathe to finish) and condensed approx 160,000 words down to 100 pages!!

Amanda: Can you tell me anything about what is was like being so frank with your self-disclosure?

Jane: Being so frank was a relief. Came easily. I just burned to tell it how it really was...

Amanda: Was writing the book a kind of therapy in itself?

Jane: So, yes, writing from day one to completing the book was always therapeutic.

Amanda: Have you had any repercussions since publishing?

Jane: The effects of publishing took me by surprise. I missed writing so much but skipped ‘saying goodbye’ and rushed into marketing. Going public, for real, jolted out of hiding the part of me who was terrified of being condemned and I plummeted into a very dark place for approx 6 months. This too, though, came from childhood experiences – none of my terrors were realised.

Amanda: Are you still in touch with "Sam"?

Jane: My after-therapy contact with ‘Sam’ dwindled in quantity, though we did email from time to time. I don’t judge our contact as ‘good’ or ‘bad’; I’m also pretty certain the child in me remained confused and continued some transference of longing-for-unavailable father. My learning from this is to be clearer about boundaries in the aftermath of a therapeutic relationship.
    ‘Sam’ died last year. I was honoured to be amongst the people to be informed and so went to his funeral. And have since been glad I’ve learned in the last few years how to grieve rather than continue the practice of ‘refusing to mind’

Amanda: What are your favourite therapy books?

Jane: Favourite therapy books?! The ones that speak to me ie are written by people to people. Alice Miller, Irvin Yalom (of course), Judith Hermann, John Bradshaw, Lance Dodes (I think that’s his name – writes on addiction) to name a few authors. Stanley Keleman is another, and mustn’t forget Ronnie Laing!

Does Therapy Work? is available via Amazon.

Jane Barclay has a private practice in Exeter: 

Amanda Williamson MBACP
Counselling in Exeter

Welcome to Counselling in Exeter


Anonymous said...

Hi Amanda
This is a great recommendation. It sounds like a really useful addition to the literature and a testament to how writing can be so important to therapists and clients.
I like the term Romantic Scientist (but being married to a Hard Scientist I have to be careful with that word). How we define ourselves as practitioners is another whole discussion.

counselling said...

Counselling can provide a confidential space where you can talk with someone, usually on a one to one level, about how you are feeling in a way that will enable you to feel better in the long run, be happier within yourself and be better positioned to cope with the challenges that life presents us with.

On The Way said...

Sounds like a very good and interesting read, will be adding it to the growing list of things to read when I get my study work out of the way... way too much course reading to do at the moment!
Hope you are well,
take care x

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