When good intentions are not enough


Professional ethics have become one of the cornerstones of current therapy practice. Ethics is supposedly about overriding self-interest: acting in terms of what is good for the client.

But: do we help people because they need it, or to relieve our discomfort at their distress? Are we generous and patient because those are noble qualities, or because we have simply been socialised that way. Do we really choose the virtuous path, or do such actions merely constitute creative adjustments?

This workshop is about exploring and owning that hidden and slippery part of self that Salamo Friedlander called the grotesque; the disowned aspect of our good intentions and high moral ground.

Such explorations are often avoided, even amongst psychotherapists. Lip service is given to the shadow, but to bring this dimension of self into dialogue and relationship takes both courage and support.

Why grub around in this disturbing territory? We hold that by examining our depths, the fabric of both personal and professional relationship becomes more meaningful. Psychotherapy is filled out by bringing the unvirtuous parts of ourselves into dialogue.

This work invites you to reach down and bring to light your contrary side. The potential is to bring more richness to contact, and to discover a deeper understanding of the well worn concept of authenticity.

Identification as a caring professional is only part of the story. We argue that that a wholistic therapy requires a grounding in the whole self, including our ‘unvirtues’.

This requires support, and a non-shaming attitude towards our less savoury impulses and motivations. The workshop is designed to explore these in a way which is not only safe but also fun.

A primary mechanism for change in therapy is through the quality of contact. In striving for respectful relationship, we can neglect the place of the disrespectful . Paradoxically, by owning our smaller minded and self-oriented needs, contact is augmented.

The recognition of polarities is a useful underpinning in psychotherapy. However, the focus is generally on facilitation of the client’ awareness. 

Here we swing the mirror around: when care for the client, setting aside your own needs to be ‘of service’: what polarity responses lie in the shadows? 

A professional ethic results in striving to be a responsible, caring and attentive therapist; however this engenders a greater likelihood that self needs & reactions get set aside. This can result in a relatively superficial relationship. 

Acknowledging our own darker aspects can result in deepening trust in the therapeutic relationship. Somewhere the client knows anyway our inner reactions; owning and admitting them deconstructs idealisation, but promotes twinship. The response of the client is often relief.

The concept of authenticity is a classic value in psychotherapy. The difference here is that authentic expression on the part of the therapist does not result in shaming the client, as the exposure is of oneself as therapist. This requires a great deal of self knowledge, comfort with the parts of self that tend to remain hidden, and a willingness to show by example, and bring those parts into relationship with the client.

Why the Unvirtues?

Acting ethically - or virtuously - is about living in a connected and caring way.

No one is perfect, so sometimes the best you can do is try to act virtuously, and acknowledge your failings.

We call these ‘failings’ the Unvirtues. Because no mater how hard you try, at some point you are going to impact someone you care about in a negative way.

We don’t encourage the Unvirtues. We do suggest that recognising them is better than hiding them, or pretending they don’t exist.

By acknowledging the underbelly of your good intentions, you bring authenticity into your relationship with others. If you can’t be perfect, at least you can be honest!

This is a new type of shadow work. Its not just about 'healing' the disowned aspects of self. Its about learning to own them. Only then is real choice possible.

Copyright © Lifeworks 2014

Contact: discover@unvirtues.com