I practice a relational approach to therapy, as I believe that to be human means being in relationship with others.
Throughout our life we evolve and grow within a forest of relationships.
It is only by facing others, being challenged and supported by them, that we can develop into a fulfilled individual. Building and negotiating the many relationships in our life is our way of adapting to this world and of ultimately surviving as a specie. Unsurprisingly, many people coming for therapy with me struggle with some of their relationships.
I love gardening. Living in a city, I do not have a fully-fledged garden though, but rather a terrace, with various plants in their pots. Amongst them a real survivor - a peach tree, which willingly gives us little colourful fruits every summer.
Caring for the multiple therapeutic relationships developed with my clients is very similar to the gardening process. Both have their own stages: from planting the seed (early stages of the therapeutic relationship) through ‘watering the plant’ once a week - or more if necessary, to witnessing its ‘flowering’. Gardening involves taking care of the plant’s needs, exposing it to sunlight, or keeping it in the shadow. In order to strive, all plants need these main ingredients, but to various degrees, as every plant is unique.
Many gardeners talk to their plants, and Prince Charles is amongst them. This tradition going back to 1848, when German professor Gustav Fechner published the book Nanna (Soul-life of Plants). As ridicule, as it may seem, is now suggested by some research that low-frequency sound might vibrate the plant and so affect its growth.
Another example of the power of taking care with words…
With an enthusiasm much akin to Japanese gardening, I welcome every new relationship in my therapy: I try to meet its beauty, its mystery and to get bewildered by the person in front of me.
Our early relationship bonds with our parents or caretakers are the hanging gardens of Babylon; either lost forever or sometimes idealized.
The relationship we develop in therapy becomes ‘the second best’. Like an urban terrace garden, it can offer much needed fresh air and peace in the middle of the turmoil of life.
If the ‘classical’ face-to-face therapeutic relationship is a regular plant, online therapy via videoconferencing is mostly for the Bonsai amateurs.
It can seem artificial, and be slower at growing, but it is a real miniature co-creation by two people.
A bonsai might be the only plant that we can travel with due to our mobile lives. It might also simply be the only gardening option we feel safe with, since it allows us to stay within our own setting, or the one we find the easiest, because we lack time
The more I practice therapy online, the more I develop my sensitivity to this particular setting. Occasionally I feel like a bewildered gardener whose usual backyard has been suddenly transplanted to a rooftop plot. All the plants are the same but the way they need tending has slightly changed.
According to bonsai specialists, “the aesthetic ideal is for the miniature tree to replicate a large tree in nature. This should be done not only by paying attention to the appearance of the tree itself, but to its overall relationship with the surrounding space and other plants or rocks or driftwood placed in the container.”
The beauty of a Bonsai is its capacity to fit in a corner of your desk. Similarly, my clients invite me into their world, through the window of my computer screen – an office, a bedroom, and decors of their life I would not ever discover if they were coming to my therapy room. This aspect gives the whole ‘gardening together’ an immediate and rather moving quality.
I love the therapeutic gardening. It is a demanding process and requires patience from both sides.
When finally our plant starts thriving, I am sometimes amazed by this little ‘miracle in a pot’. With its miniature roots, trunk and leaves, the therapeutic relationship soon becomes a reference-garden for my client: a safe space where he can make mistakes, explore, challenge, share and finally learn some relational skills to transplant out there, in the wild of his ‘real’ world.
The best award is when I witness how my fellow gardener starts enjoying cultivating other gardens. Usually this is the time to end the therapy, and to move on to other gardens…