Power, Contact, and Transformation Through Radical Psychotherapy


One of the most important and meaningful things in my work is making contact with each of my clients. Without relational contact, whatever work my clients and I do together becomes irrelevant, indigestible, insoluble, and fragmented, which can be traumatizing, re-activating, and particularly harmful on micro and macro levels. That’s not to say rifts and miscommunications don’t happen, even when we are aiming for contact. In fact, that’s often the life blood of our work together, as these inevitable rifts let us know that something is feeling missed inside of you, and therefore there is something that needs to be found and contacted. I’ve discovered over time that the living experience of contact and connection is not linear, not always lasting, and not isolated to one or two experiences. We are forever practicing an ongoing contacting, and sometimes what reaches you today may not reach you under different circumstances or different days. 

Depending on what issues are bringing you to therapy, there can even be a kind of “contact amnesia,” where we have to rebuild our connection each and every time. Trust is a big factor in this. I have a lot of empathy for folks’ distrust of me as white able-bodied femme, who represents a mental health and medical system that has historically abused its power either in order to, or with the naive effect of, shaming, marginalizing, and limiting, removing, or preventing access to freedom, humanity, and choice. So how can you and I make contact, even when you may be feeling an intuitive skepticism and mistrust of what I represent, or even what the vulnerability of emotional contact represents?

I think it has a lot to do with how both of us understand, and can speak to, power, privilege, and hegemony. If I don’t recognize and own my power in the therapeutic dyad, then it is more likely to be misused or enacted without resolution. Sure, as my client, you pay my salary, and therefore you are my employer. This does give you a necessary power in our dyad. But what I represent, and what I am asking you to do (become open, honest, and vulnerable while being witnessed and listened to by a stranger who has institutional power), has more power on a fundamental and structural level than your ability to terminate treatment at any time.  

I therefore find myself in an ongoing negotiation and flow between offering my mind to/utilizing my mind within a particular hegemony that has a tendency to trip over its meticulously (or dissociatively?) tied shoelaces; is not always critically self-aware or flexible; and is frequently not-conscious of its own colonialism and alignment with oppressive and marginalizing practices, and then letting go completely of that framework when I make contact with people who think very differently and have a very different lived experience than my favorite theories can speak to. In service of a truly transformative experience for my clients and society at large, I aim to stay alive and awake in my radicalism even while maintaining a kind of therapeutic neutrality that is important to my work. I often check myself about my neutrality- is it being utilized in the service of my clients and their unconscious need/identity, so that each person I work with is offered the same opportunity to develop a working understanding of their own self? Or is it being used in an effort to hide from my own anxieties or discomfort around stepping into the great, messy unknown?

My hope for the practice of therapy is that clinicians and clients alike are able to cultivate an experience of being both inside-and-outside; that what we learn together will be in the service of maintaining relevance, connectedness, integrity, and contact in the community and relationships that are relevant and important to each of us. We are all human, first and foremost. This work is alive because we bring aliveness to it, we bring relevance to it, and we bring meaning and impressions or associations to it. As a therapist, I am committing to listen and respond to my clients’ interpersonal, intrapersonal, and collective experience and trauma on a multitextural, multilayered, relevant level. 

I don’t have the answer to the following questions, but out of a sense of hope I wonder out loud: Together, can you (my client) and I, and all the community and ancestors who sit with us during each hour, dismantle (or differently-mantle) the master’s house by using these master’s tools? Will it be possible for us to create an entirely different house that holds us as alive, decentralized, mutual, and liberated beings? I don’t know, but I believe it’s a question that must stay alive between and within us if our work is to be truly transformative.