Chapter 6: DISCUSSION

 

In the first section the researcher will be exploring the findings in the light of the literature in an effort to further illuminate the insights contained in them. Surprisingly enough, it was found that very few research papers have been written explicitly about clients who are reluctant to talk in therapy therefore the researcher has at times resorted to comparing the findings with more classic points of reference.

In the following section the researcher will demonstrate that this study has been conducted in a conscious and reflective manner by engaging in a disciplinary reflexivity (Wilkinson, 1988) through a critical debate in the context of theory and method.

Gough (2003) identified the dangers inherent to an epistemological reality of research which may invite the researcher to claim some objective truth. The researcher will therefore also engage in an epistemic reflexivity (White, 1997) which will see the researcher adopts a critical stance towards the discourse of scientific research itself.


Finally This chapter will conclude with the researcher offering recommendations with regard to future research.




6.1 Findings in the light of literature

The findings suggest that clients who are being reluctant to talk may be indicating to their therapists that the therapeutic space is being used in two quite different manners. Participants felt that the silences from their clients were either taking place in the context of a harmonious and cooperating alliance, or on the contrary seemed to part of an attitude which at times put tremendous pressure on the therapeutic relationship and the therapist himself. Still, the findings suggest that most of the time the silence left the participants in a place of not-knowing which felt particularly sensitive.

One may look at those findings in the light of Zeligs (1961) who claimed that silences are over-determined phenomena in terms of the contrast in emotional states that the client finds himself in at the time. If silences may be representatives of a wide range of emotions, according to him, they are 'guarantee' of a profound emotional state happening in the client. One wonders if this intense emotional state is not perhaps reflected in a therapist who can only witness without knowing how it is for the client at this particular time.



The findings also suggest that in those silent moments it was difficult for the participants to know whether to intervene or let the moment unfold by itself and see what was coming next. The participants reported that those instants could be quite anxiety provoking and forcing them to look hard into themselves in case they could misread the situation. In a similar vein Coltart (1993) noted that comparable situations had presented her with “special challenges” (p 79) as to whether the client needed the therapist to accompany him in the silence or intervene. Indeed it seems that those moments are quite crucial and consequential for the client and in their study on impasses Leiper and Kent (2001) stress that a better education in `not knowing' would help therapists deal with such experiences more constructively.

Even though the participants didn't know what was being enacted in some silences, at the time those were somehow sensed to be more secure, positive or on the verge of heralding something meaningful for the client. In this particular context the participants reported a general feeling that their clients were cooperating and being creative in the therapeutic process. Thus, sensing that something important was being addressed in the silence the participants decided not to interrupt but let their clients 'be'.

If in this instance the findings suggest that those silences felt more 'productive' it doesn't necessarily mean that there were no feelings of anxiety around for the participants - they chose to take a 'risk' and waited in faith of their own senses that something positive for the client was being formulated.


The researcher suggests that this finding may be seen in the light of the research written by Levitt (2002) who found that some silences could be regarded as insight-facilitating pauses and therefore crucial therapeutic moments for the client. In this particular context the author claims that the client might be in the process of deriving some significant meanings from his experience and associated feelings. In the same vein Winnicott (1982) and Bollas (1987) argue that in those specific moments the therapist should not intervene but offer the necessary mental space for the client to re-organise his private and internal development.

Positive feelings evoked in the silence were also reported by participants to be sometimes related with something seemingly very 'early' in the relationship. The findings suggest that in this instance the client appeared in some way very young whilst conveying at the same time that there was no need for the therapist to intervene, especially not for telling him what to do. The experience is one where all that is required by the client is a simple, empathic understanding and non-demanding presence from the therapist. Those findings seem indeed to illuminate Balint's idea of 'primary love' (Balint, 1968: 65) whereby “the aim of all human striving is to establish – or, probably, to re-establish – an all embracing harmony with one's environment, to be able to love in peace”.


One participant reported having experienced the silence of her client as an “empowering trans-personal space” whereby both participants in therapy were joined 'together' in an almost spiritual place while sharing something which significantly transformed their experience of each other and in a positive manner. With regard to this feeling, the researcher is not entirely sure what was exactly meant by this. No comparisons in relation to any existing research could effectively be made a this point in time. Any elaboration on this particular piece of data from the participant would require an exercise of interpretation and invites the researcher to go beyond the chosen methodology for this research.


At its most 'virulent' expression the findings showed that the therapists felt, amongst other things, cut off, rejected, deskilled and controlled. In those instances the therapeutic relationship would evoke in the participants feelings ranging from being 'stuck' to hostility from the client. When this was the case the participants described their jobs as 'particularly difficult' or 'hard work'.


Under such intensity of feelings most participants reported having found themselves colluding with their clients or responding in some forms of retaliation. The range of response would vary from being silent in return, to wishing their clients would not come back. This perhaps links in with Leiper and Kent (2001: 81) who in their work on impases refer it as 'malignant alienation' the situation whereby the therapist becomes cold and avoid contact with the client while venting their frustration in latent ways. The danger, they claim, is that in those instances the therapist might be colluding with the client's hopelessness and ultimately contribute to a breakdown in the therapeutic relationship when in fact, as Lacan had also suggested earlier (Fink, 2007), the problem implies that the therapist is also involved.

Along with perceived feelings of deadness or emptiness, as if dissociated from the living world and others, therapists also reported feelings that some clients were somehow unable to symbolise and verbalise their feelings and experience. It may feel as if the client is 'floating' in a kind of pre-verbal world and unable to anchor himself into words. This experience rings true of a vivid description offered by Rigas where in a similar situation he felt as if the client's self “could not be affected by the therapist's words” Rigas (2008: 42).

Perhaps it is useful to consider those findings in the light of Balint (1993) whose observations of similar situations seemed to have showed that human development is characterised by a clear separation between the 'pre-verbal period', where the infant is not yet able to use words in order to objectify his environment, and the following phase where the infant is finally able to use language (p 32). Indeed, in line with this theory all participants sensed that effectively something seemed 'very early' about their clients in those situations, especially when they acted out. Finally, depending on where the client is situated in relation to those phases in life, Balint notes, the therapist might be required to become quite flexible in his approach (Balint, 1992).


It is also suggested that when finding themselves in a situation where a client is reluctant to talk the participants use their feelings extensively as a guide to sense whether to intervene or not. This approach seems particularly well reflected by Coltart who speaks of the internal feelings of the therapist, which he refers to as 'counter-transference', as being “the instruments par excellence of the work” (Coltart, 2003: 86) - the therapist listens and observes not only the reactions of his client; he is also attentive to his own reactions as well. This finding seems also in line with the work by Mearns and Cooper (2005) which stipulates that the client's internal space may be approached phenomenologically in that the therapist should sense where the client is while presenting oneself in an authentic manner. Finally, the notion of 'contact rhythm' by Kreitemeyer & Prouty (2003) may help capture the idea suggested in the findings whereby in those moments the therapist is 'tuning in' or 'calibrating' himself in order to achieve a deep relational contact with the client.


6.2 Disciplinary and epistemic reflection on the present research

As seen in chapter 3 the researcher decided to remain 'in line' with the Husserlian approach to phenomenology by adopting the qualitative method devised by Giorgi (1985) which agrees with Merleau-Ponty's philosophical views of the human body as the first medium of contact with the world and therefore a primary source of knowledge.

As demonstrated in the same chapter it was argued that Merleau-Ponty's epistemological inclination was the most appropriate in that it didn't just take into consideration the philosophical concerns which had been raised in relation with Husserl's early convictions that the phenomenologist could adopt a 'God's eye view' and step outside intentionality to claim some indisputable truth about a phenomena, it also claimed that individuals are above all immersed into the social world before reflecting on it through language (Langdridge, 2007). Since Merleau-Ponty's phenomenological approach is 'sensitive' to what remains outside language it seemed particularly adapted for an investigation of the therapist's experience of a client who was reluctant to talk.

All along this study the researcher kept a journal where he wrote down any relevant insights.


As seen in the chapter on methodology the empirical phenomenological approach is based on the condition that the enquirer avoids adopting the natural attitude of trying to explain and interfere rationally with what emerges in the experience under examination. Following on this principle the researcher approached the interviewing process with the specific intention of only asking the participants to describe their experience of working with a client who was reluctant to talk.


It is claimed that the interviewing process conducted in this research has been an opportunity for the researcher to appreciate the extent to which the results it generates depend on the rapport between him and the participant.

For a start the researcher did effectively catch himself wanting to hear only certain aspects of the experience under investigation whilst wishing that the emerging data would safely fit within his own idea of how the findings should look like, as opposed to let the participant shape them. As those feelings were recognised and bracketed off the researcher subsequently became aware of a desire to engage the participant and discuss his experience in the light of his own. Even though the researcher did not intervene in any way except in paraphrasing or repeating the question when the participant seemed in need of support, this experience left him wondering how much the participants were responding to the researcher's wishes to somehow receive his own answers.


Lacan (2006) claims that the Subject is developed in the discourse of the Other. According to him one is the product of desire (or no-desire) whose alluring content is conveyed through language and starting with the mother assigning meanings to the infant's early survival needs. Lacan also writes that 'desire is the desire of the Other' (p 312). In other words man desires what the Other desires, and in a similar manner (Fink, 1996: 54). In the context of the interviews conducted in this research Lacan implies that on some level the participants were responding to the researcher's needs and desires.

In the same vein and in the light of the implications of Freud's discovery on the unconscious (Freud, 1915) many questions followed such as: how representative were the data in relation to the actual experience? How and what has the researcher helped construct as part of the account being offered? From a phenomenological perspective Spinelli (1989) argues that past experiences are reviewed in the light of the present.


To what extent then has the interviewer influenced the memory of the actual experience as lived from the participant? Freud (1915: 194) once wrote that “It is a very remarkable thing that the Ucs. of one human being can react upon that of another, without passing through the Cs”. If this is so then what was the unconscious dialogue being held during the interview between the researcher and the participant? Would another interview with the same participant at the same place yield the same set of data? Would the participant report the same experience if he had a different rapport with the interviewer? All those questions do not even take into consideration what the participant and interviewer brought of his own life into the interviews.

For those reasons the researcher's realises that the idea of collecting 'unbiased' data in an interview as part of qualitative research is unattainable.

When eventually something seemingly new appeared to have emerged from the findings, as for example when S4 referred to her experience of silence as “an empowering trans-personal space”, the researcher found himself unsure as to what the participant exactly meant by this remark. Since the literature had not identified this particular aspect of the phenomena, the researcher's first reaction was to consider this information as somehow redundant - it felt 'risky' to legitimise this new aspect of the phenomena in case its meaning would be questioned and discredit the validity of the research findings. As Heidegger ([1927] 1962: 43) once wrote

“Dasein simultaneously falls prey to the tradition of which it has more or less explicitly taken hold. This tradition keeps it from providing its own guidance, whether in inquiring or in choosing [...] When tradition thus becomes master, it does so in such a way that what it 'transmits' is made so inaccessible, proximally and for the most part, that it rather becomes concealed”.


In the light of the fact that this particular meaning might not correspond to a description but to an interpretation led the researcher to wonder if the method being employed wasn't limited in some significant respects. It seemed that restricting oneself to a pure 'descriptive' approach of a phenomena was limiting the depth of investigation that could potentially be reached should the experience be grasped in the light of, or from a particular context. In order to better understand the participant's reference of an 'empowering trans-personal space' the researcher would have needed to be allowed to relate and interpret from a similar experience. Indeed a major critique of the empirical phenomenological approach is reflected in the idea that it can be restrictively too descriptive (Langdridge, 2007: 158).

This experience has made the researcher aware of the extent to which the existing knowledge may be suffocating new knowledge while 'forcing' the inexperienced researcher to disregard the unconventional and different in order to have his study safely conformed, accepted and legitimised by, in this particular context, the academic authorities. Conversely, the researcher was made aware on how the scientifically legitimised findings in this research may in turn be 'asphyxiating' any potential knowledge not yet identified outside of it.


In the same vein it is also the researcher's view that, paradoxically, qualitative researching may be regarded as a positivistic approach based on modernist assumptions. To begin with, qualitative interviewing expects participants to be approached and systematically asked to recall and describe their experience in relation to a precise phenomena. Recorded and then analysed, the data changes from being fluid and contextual to dissected into distinct units whose subjective weight will decide on their eligibility for further reduction in the light of the general. A subjective 'average' is then applied to all similarly processed entities in order to produce a result in the shape of some unambiguous findings ready for publication.

Viewed in this light the researcher contends that an element of control and power can be detected in methodology in general. It is argued that this phenomena was effectively identified by Foucault (1991) who in his work isolated and analysed the structures of the human sciences as discursive systems in the service of ideological power (Burr, 2003).

The language that this small-scale research unavoidably needs in order to convey its message is unstable, persistently slippery and ambiguous (Sarup, 1993). As Scheurich (1995: 240) quotes Berman as saying

"Language wherever used is composed of structured signifiers, systematized among themselves by differences or oppositions and linked to signifieds in a way more tenuous than even Saussure realized".


Meanings constantly move and slip along a chain of signifiers, never to be fixed permanently - inherent to language is a fundamental indeterminateness of meaning and communication (Sarup, 1993). When a word takes on a certain sense it happens within a specific sentence whose meaning is attached to a particular context and history. In the same vein the contents in the data collected as part of this research interview are taken to be a unique function of a number of un-verifiable factors since they were dependent on a certain point in time.

In the light of the above it is therefore claimed that the primary aim of this study is to provide only a perspective on a particular phenomena, a reference to be bracketed off when being confronted with what appears to be a similar circumstance in therapy.


In the same vein the researcher wonders about any systematic thinking that this research project might be inviting for. In the context of this research a study on the therapist's experience of a client who is reluctant to talk has yielded some findings and so in the process intrinsically created a link between a phenomena and its meaning(s). Even though it was made explicitly clear in the findings that the therapist is to some extent responsible for their clients' reluctance to talk the researcher is also aware that some derivative associations might incite potential readers, or psychotherapists as the case may be, to use this research in order to justify any distressing feelings emerging in a similar situation and conclude conveniently that those are evoked clearly 'because' the client is reluctant to talk. Following on the ideas in relation to power as developed by Foucault (Sarup, 1993) it is possible that one may look at this piece of research and use it as a tool to manipulate and define others. In this instance, the philosopher claims, there is a danger that knowledge ceases to be liberating and becomes instead “a mode of surveillance, regulation and discipline” (Foucault cited in Sarup, 1993: 59).


However, it is equally true that as the researcher actually experienced it himself in his own practice, this research may also help therapists create possibilities. It has been the researcher's experience that conducting a phenomenological investigation on therapists' experience of a client who is reluctant to talk has provided him with an added ability to contain and understand his own anxiety in relation to this situation. As described at the beginning of this project the research question was originally inspired by one of the researcher's clients who used to regularly come, sit and remain silent. Our work together has run in parallel with this research, and in accordance with it the researcher noticed a meaningful change in the therapeutic relationship.

In his role as a therapist the researcher can easily identify some important implications from aspects visited in this research. For example the concepts of the 'hermeneutic circle' and 'fusion of horizons' have been significant to better understand and in a way better empathise with the experience of the client as conveyed though the meanings in her narrative. This has allowed the therapist-researcher to develop an added trust in his own senses when facing the unknown which is, as explored earlier, a situation most especially met when a client is reluctant to talk. Instead of deliberately bracketing off any thoughts and feelings which may occur at one moment in therapy the researcher is now more inclined to examine them in the light of the context offered by the client.

In any event the various ways with whith this piece of research can be used suggests that it can open as many possibilities as it can close.


6.3 Future research

First of all this research was conducted using seven participants and the researcher. The findings suggested here are only representative of the experience as lived by those individuals only and therefore an improvement on the research could include a greater sample.

In the course of this research it was realised that for all intents and purposes Giorgi's method is limited in that it cannot preserve the participants' silent and unconscious communication. As Finlay (2006) also saw it, there seems to be a definite absence of the body in much phenomenological research.


While recounting their experience some participants effectively became quite emotional and seemed to convey a lot of information through their facial expressions and body postures. Perhaps as an improvement inspired from the method of discourse analysis which records the breaks in the participant's speech, the empirical phenomenological approach could be adapted to somehow record and code the interviewee's body language. This added dimension, it is suggested, would serve a greater depth in the research and further illuminate the phenomena being studied.

Finally the researcher is well aware of his biases towards choosing exclusively a purely qualitative approach, and therefore wonders to what extent qualitative research could benefit from ideas and concept coming from a quantitative approach. As Onwuegbuzie and Leech (2005) demonstrated, a polarization on one research methods promotes purists and researchers who restrict themselves in their approach. A form of indoctrination which states that qualitative methods are incompatible with quantitative research (Howe, 1988) indeed reminds the researcher of the dynamics of power discovered by Foucault (1991) in order to control its subjects.

Could there be a means to incorporate what quantitative methods has best to offer into a phenomenological approach? Onwuegbuzie and Leech (2005: 380) quotes Ryan and Bernard as stating that

“the value of turning qualitative data into quantitative data is 'abundantly clear': Doing so can produce information that engenders deeper interpretations of the meanings in the original corpus of qualitative data.”


In turn Sarup (1993: 136) refers to the post-modernist writer and philosopher Lyotard as claiming that “Both science and non-scientific (narrative knowledge) are equally necessary”. Without entering into unnecessary methodological details in the context of this section it seems that a regard for such a possibility would be in line, if not expected, with the kind of openness as the one underlying the very philosophical basis of this research.


6.4 Conclusion

This research had as its aim to explore and provide some insights into the therapist's experience of a client who is reluctant to talk. Is it going to change any potential views in the reader with regard to his own experience in a similar situation? In any case it has effectively been the researcher's own experience that having had to conduct a qualitative research on this phenomena has changed his own views and experience on the subject.

Perhaps it is also appropriate to mention here that after their interviews most of the participants also reported that a change in perspective had occurred in them with regard to their experience with their clients. Or were they just somehow returning some feelings of gratitude for having been given an opportunity to talk about their stories?

In any event the researcher feels that if and when he will be confronted again with a client who is reluctant to talk the information gathered in this research will be somehow redundant. As Gadamer ([1960] 1990) so elegantly demonstrated in terms of his hermeneutic circle, the researcher argues that having 'absorbed' the knowledge in this study will only but invite him to look at his next experience of a client who is reluctant to talk in a new light, where paradoxically things might be even more complicated to describe. Taking on Descartes's 'I think, therefore I am' Loewenthal and Snell (2003: 97) quotes Lacan as saying 'I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think', which rings uncannily true in relation to the experience just explored.

   

 

Contents

Abstract

Introduction

Literature review

Methodology

Research method

Findings

Discussion

References

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