I’ve been doing more drawing lately, and it’s obvious that I want to run before I can walk. I want to be able to draw sparse, economical sketches that tell you all you need to know in 6 or 7 lines. Instead I end up laboriously shading and detailing, just to make the drawing seem credible.
In the other part of my life, as supervisor to a group of experienced counsellors, I have been giving a lot of thought to the particular demands of short term working. Listening to accounts of their work, it struck me that my struggle with drawing – economy of line – was not entirely unlike their struggle to use a very limited number of sessions to the best advantage. Amongst the stories are some very impressive accounts of economy of line, where the therapist has been able to capture some essential and convincing elements of the client’s narrative within a very brief time frame.
We are working in a context where time is increasingly compressed. Outside of the world of private practice there are very few examples where time is as long as the client or patient needs. (I am very aware of my own privileged position, where I have on-going long term relationships with my supervisees.) But although we lament the passing of a more golden age where counselling could mean anything from 3-30+ sessions with one client, there is something very miraculous in those encounters where something significant and therapeutic is captured within the shortest amount of time. It is like the line drawing, powerful in its apparent simplicity but based upon practice, experience and skill. Intuition may play its part, but it needs to be intuition that has had the benefit of self-examination and self-reflection, rather than taken for granted as wisdom. (But this is a familiar hobby horse, and I don’t want to be distracted from the sketching analogy!)
It seems to me that if the therapist never has the opportunity to do the equivalent of the long, painstaking and detailed drawing, they are unlikely to develop the skills needed for the sparse but beautiful sketch. The increasing requirement for working in the smallest time frame demands skills that can only be honed in longer term therapeutic relationships. Once we close down all the places where long term work takes place, where can we learn these skills?