Facing Personal Adversity While Dealing with the Pain of Others: a Hermeneutic Literature Review
This study explores how experiences of adversity can impact the mind of the psychotherapist and the therapeutic relationship. Thus, the question of how one deals with personal pain while dealing with the pain of others and how this interfaces with ‘doing’ psychotherapy is central to this enquiry. This question is one that emerged from the author’s personal encounters with adversity during the completion of psychotherapy training and the subsequent negotiation of beginning a career as a psychotherapist. Specifically, the emergence of an internal, cognitive fog during crisis led to a burgeoning interest in the topic.
A review of the literature indicates that therapists’ experiences of adversity are largely neglected within psychotherapy research (Rosenfeld, 2016). Consequently, this review, which is conducted from the ontological perspective of hermeneutic phenomenology (Boell & Cecez-Kecmanovic, 2014; Heidegger, 1966; Smythe & Spence, 2012), seeks to shed light on a relatively untapped domain.
The findings of this study reveal that myriad issues can arise when the psychotherapist’s personal and professional lives touch (Morrison, 2013). This is an especially pertinent consideration during times of personal crisis because therapists’ usual professional boundaries and sensibilities may be stretched beyond their limit by stressors in their personal lives (Bemesderfer, 2000). It seems that trauma in the life of the therapist can, at times, invade the therapy space, inciting volatility and instability in the therapist’s professional world. However, the findings of this study also imply that the personal and professional worlds of the therapist can co-exist during times of upheaval, coming together as amicable yet uneasy neighbours entwined together in an existential journey toward healing. For those who choose to continue working with the pain of others while facing pain of their own, the journey is complex and inherently challenging, yet also possible.