032 – Recent Changes in Counselling – Thematic Apperception Test – Using Transitional Objects
In episode 32 of the Counselling Tutor Podcast, Rory Lees-Oakes and Ken Kelly talk about recent changes in the world of counselling. ‘Theory with Rory’ then examines thematic apperception tests. Last, the presenters discuss the use of transitional objects.
Recent Changes in Counselling
Ken and Rory discuss how the world of counselling and psychotherapy has changed over recent times. Key developments, many of which have been made possible by new technology, include:
- the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy introducing a new Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions, which includes reference to online therapy
- discussions on the profession moving towards becoming regulated
- counsellors being able to connect more easily with each other (e.g. through our Facebook page, Counselling Tutor), so helping to avoid professional isolation
- greater access to information on issues relating to psychological and emotional health (e.g. the recent disclosure through the UK press of sexual abuse in football), empowering people to talk about their own experiences
- new modalities emerging – for example narrative and solution-focused therapy
- the medical and social models moving closer to each other in mental health care
- people becoming increasingly isolated socially, and so being more in need of being listening to and receiving the core conditions
- counsellors being more likely to offer clients psycho-education (for which continuing professional development is especially important)
- counselling becoming less of a ‘cottage industry, and becoming more respected by other health and social care professionals.
The presenters discuss whether the nature of the human condition and pain have changed; they conclude that they have not, but that people now have more opportunity to normalise their problems through greater exposure of others’ difficulties. This is in turn helping to lift the stigma of seeking counselling help.
Thematic Apperception Test
A thematic apperception test (TAT) is a projective psychological test that is designed to reveal a person’s needs, motives and concerns through how they interpret pictures showing emotionally ambiguous situations. Rory describes how participating in this activity changed his life in terms of inspiring him to enter the counselling profession.
The concept of TAT was first discussed in the 1930s by US psychologist Henry Murray and lay psychoanalyst Christiana Morgan at the Harvard Clinic. It is said that the idea came from a question asked by a student, Cecilia Roberts, whose son – when ill – had spent the day making up stories about images in magazines. Roberts asked Murray whether pictures could be used in clinical practice to explore personality.
The TAT also has a literary connection, with one of the chapters in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick describing what different characters see in the images on a coin. Murray was a great fan of Melville’s writings.
After the Second World War, the test was adapted to fit various different approaches to psychotherapy, and was later used by the Human Potential Movement (which is based on the humanistic school of psychology) to help increase clients self-understanding and personal growth. It can be useful in revealing edge-of-awareness material, enabling clients to access their feeling and process.
Using Transitional Objects
This involves a counsellor giving a client an object of theirs to help see them through a break in therapy sessions through maintaining an intersubjective connection. As such, it is something to be thought out carefully – and so employed only by experienced counsellors in an established therapeutic relationship. Particular dangers to bear in mind are the risks of transference and dependence.
Used properly, this technique may increase rather than decrease client power. Ken describes an activity he has used at the final stages of counselling, in which clients choose from a selection of small objects (feathers, pens, tape measures, dolls etc.) one that seems to fit with their personal journey. It might be possible to let them take their chosen item away with them as a transitional object.
Ken and Rory conclude that the key to using transitional objects is to do so only with the right client, in the right relationship, and for the right reason.