Counselling in Oxfordshire

Bill Imlah :: Counselling in Oxfordshire

Blog » Why do I focus on what's going on between us in counselling?

7 Aug 2008

It's often useful in our work together to explore what's going on between us in the counselling relationship, and especially to explore any similarities between our interactions, and either your experiences of the past, or other experiences in your life now, such as at home or in the workplace.  


Triangle of insight


When I work with you from these perspectives, we'll be looking at the connections between three contexts:

  • in here (what's going on in the relationship between me and you) 
  • out there (what's going on in your relationships with others) and 
  • back then (what went on in relationships from your past).

 The most effective of these, therapeutically, usually involves working with "in here"  - what's going on between us, directly, in the counselling room.  Your experience of your relationship with me is a safe opportunity to be directly in touch, in the here-and-now, with those perhaps difficult patterns of feelings that characterise how you "do" relationships  - a safe space for you to explore them openly while they're fresh and current, rather than just remembered  - in an immediate and powerful way. 

It's a rare opportunity to express and explore difficult feelings towards someone who's actually there, in front of you, and ready to work openly and non-defensively with whatever's coming up for you.  Here's an example of working in that way from the book "Between Therapist and Client" (Kahn 1997):

Therapist:  You sound very angry with me. (The client is silent.) Are you feeling angry with me today?

Client: Yes, as a matter of fact, I am kind of angry, (pause) I kind of get the idea that you don’t approve of this relationship that I’ve started with this new woman I’ve met. (pause) It isn’t anything you’ve said, particularly. I just kind of get that idea.

Therapist I think that we learn a lot from you seeing me that way. You’ve mentioned a couple of times that your mother let you know how much she disapproved when you began to go out on dates. (Client nods).

I wonder if we’re learning here that there was a good deal of buried anger in you back then. Perhaps that’s why you’re mad at me today and why you think I disapprove of your relationship.

Useful, but often less powerful than working with our relationship directly, is making connections between relationships in the present “out there” and relationships in the past:

Client: She’s always criticising me. It was like “you can’t do anything right.” If I tried to help more I was interfering, and if I didn’t I was lazy ... whatever I did it was wrong.

Therapist: Have there been other times where you’ve been in situations where you’ve felt like that?

Client: Oh, yes. Joanna. My first wife. Whatever I did, it was “you’re useless” or “just let me do it, I can’t wait all day for you to get it right”.

Therapist: I’m remembering what you said about your mum calling you useless and how ashamed you felt when that happened. I’m wondering if there’s any connection between what happened with your mum and how you felt in those other relationships.

In general, when I work with you, I'll be encouraging you to explore the links between any two points in the triangle, and in either direction.


Kahn (1997). Between Therapist and Client: The New Relationship, revised edition. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.

Images used in this blog.