Monday, 19 November 2012

Negative K

I was a teenager in the late 60’s and am from the humanistic tradition of psychotherapy.  It is a tradition based in optimism about what we may be and the sense of basic goodness at the heart of every person which, although it may be corrupted by pain and distress; can be recovered. At its best, I still believe, it represents the deepest spiritual truth; at its worst it is a naïve optimism about people and life and possibilities.  Anyone who has worked as a psychotherapist for a long while is likely to come up against the notion of damage and what can and can’t be repaired in people.  Miracles are always possible and radical change certainly happens.  In the past I have tried with clients to support a realistic idea of what can be changed with the metaphor of the difference between an open weeping wound and a scar. Nothing can create perfect skin but therapy can help change an open wound into a scar; healing doesn’t eradicate all traces of the past, it makes life possible;  the trauma is still discernible but no longer dangerous.

However, clinical experience sometimes takes us to look at the sense that some clients have of damage. Perhaps this is the “Basic Fault” (see M. Balint) that can’t be repaired.  Wilfred Bion, a brilliant  and original developer of psychoanalysis, came up with a theoretical formulation of the functions of Love, Hate and Knowledge in both positive and negative forms.  Negative Knowledge (K minus) is the core part that actively doesn’t want to know and destroys knowledge and awareness.  Its forms can be very destructive of any goodness in the internal world and of any attempts to help. There are many other ways of conceptualising this.  Unless you have led a charmed life as a person and as a therapist , you will have met people who seem impossible to help and who perform the alchemical task of turning gold into shit.  They twist everything good into a force against themselves or others who try and help. 

Melanie Klein gave another way of understanding this through her use of the concept of envy.  Where someone perceives good qualities in another they try and destroy them rather than emulate them or use the gifts being offered. If they receive any goodness into themselves then they turn and try and destroy that through self-attack. The very qualities and experiences which could help them,they seek to destroy. It is very primitive and very real in some people.  I am sure there are Christians that would say that it is the Devil at work. Jungians may say these people are in the grip of an archetype such as The Witch or The Judge. Other forms of understanding this in different cultures can be of possession of the person by a spirit that requires exorcism; a variety of shamanic process. In its positive form this is sometimes called soul retrieval.  Shamanism and psychotherapy are close together as an increasing number of books now recognise such as Christa Mckinnon’s  Shamanism and Spirituality in Therapeutic Practice , recently published. 

The irony is that this work all requires some sort of positive therapeutic relationship; and that is precisely what negative K seeks to destroy. Sometimes therapy and life requires a process of hanging on to this relationship even when results and common sense suggest otherwise. In this respect working as a therapist is an act of faith against a sea of unknowing, unreason and darkness.  The struggle to maintain the therapeutic relationship and get agreement to name and work on the trauma ( which can be very effective using energy psychology methods), is sometimes the bulk of the work. As a committed therapeutic relationship is now against the cultural norm of instant gratification and moving on; this is particularly hard.  The boundary in therapy and life between commitment and masochism is sometimes very hard to discern!

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