Freud and the here-and-now in the therapeutic alliance

The phenomenon of the present moment often termed the here-and-now is the centre of focus in the practice of other psychotherapeutic schools, and in particular gestalt therapy. Referencing back to Freud, we can see that he makes the distinction between doing analysis and working on the resistance of the client in getting the analysis done. Doing analysis alone deals with past material while working on the resistance deals with the phenomenon of the here-and-now. Doing so is an attempt at tracing the symptom back to the past. Freud explains:

“It may thus be said that the theory of psycho-analysis is an attempt to account for two striking and unexpected facts of observation which emerge whenever an attempt is made to trace the symptoms of a neurotic back to their sources in his past life: the facts of transference and of resistance” (Freud, 1914).

Psychotherapeutic work, at its commencement, is an act of attempt— a process—to investigate. What emerges in during therapy sessions that works against and interferes with this attempt is what we learn to be resistance and transferences. The patient’s unconscious resists analysis. The “resistance” that the therapist encounters during the therapy session, and is considered the point of focus at which to work through the client’s neurotic symptoms.

This resistance is interference within the client to realize an emerging need. Simkin (1973/1990) explains metaphorically that this emerging need is the “figure” that emerges from a “ground”, that, if not realized and met, cannot achieve completion. Unrealized/un-met needs (unclear figures) leave the person with off-centeredness (mangelhafte Zentrierung) and their needs de-differentiated (Entdifferentierung) which become manifest as heightened arousal (Erregungsschwelle), which is lived as the neurotic symptoms (Votsmeier, 1995). The clearer a need is to the client, the more possibility for this need to be met. In therapy, the therapist leads the client towards sharpening this figure, and realizing the need. Needs that aren’t met are also known as unfinished businesses.

The goal of almost all psychotherapy approaches is to work through unfinished businesses, which are situations whereby completion is not achieved resulting in repetitive patterns in behaviour that do not serve the client. Work is done by either bringing awareness to the unfinished situation and/or through saturation/exaggeration by “continuing until you feel fed-up” (Simkin, 1973/1990, p. 87). The resolution comes when completion is achieved, and the figure goes back to the background, allowing other figures to emerge. So that the organism can make contact with the environment.

The process of psychotherapeutic work is initiated by, and consists of, the observation of the interruptions to the work, and not the content of the analysis per se. The resistance to the attempts, when dealt with in the here-and-now, brings about awareness of unresolved situations. This is fodder for therapeutic work.

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References

Chew-Helbig, N. (2017). The Psychotherapeutic Alliance and Change: A discussion on the healing aspects in a psychotherapeutic relationship. Bachelor Thesis.

Freud, S. (1914). On the history of the psycho-analytic movement. In Standard Edition (pp. 2877-2928).

Simkin, J. S. (1973/1990). Gestalt Therapy Mini Lectures. With a new introduction by Ervin Polster. (Kindle ed.). The Gestalt Journal Press.

Votsmeier, A. (1995). Gestalt-Therapie und die „Organismische Theorie “–der EinflußKurt Goldsteins. In Gestalttherapie (Vol. 1(95) , pp. 2-16).