It sounds ominous… It is rather ominous really.
I shall try to give my understanding of this and give an excerpt from a session I had to add to this, and then also offer a beautifully worded version by Bion and hope this will help to introduce the concept well.
So I will start by saying why? the reason for bringing this topic up now is because it has been extremely present and one of the main themes surrounding my first couple of sessions. It was quickly something I became aware of in myself, funny enough it was something I was dealing with in my personal therapy, and so to be facing the facts of my own valency it was so interesting to see this in action in a therapeutic setting and how engrained and ‘normal’ and ‘safe’ but… at the same time unproductive responding to our valency is. I’ll come to why I suggest it is unproductive when you find yourself responding to it, later. At the same time, I believe your awareness to feel your patient is an important element to bring into the session, both privately and in the open where necessary.
Just to clarify, I will be talking from the therapists position. As a patient, you wouldn’t want to not respond to or inhibit ones valency otherwise it prevents the therapist from doing their job. In realising and discovering ones valency, one comes to better understand the role they have played in their history, the defences and safe houses of their minds, and will add value to therapy in order to alter the way one handles situations in the future.
So… valency; those parts that have developed within ourselves that we usually are unaware of and which we more than likely deny and project in a rather ominous way, on to others. These dictate and characterise our relationships and the situations we find ourselves in, in every day life. As a good example to picture what I mean. Have you ever had that friend or person who vehemently denies any part in the situations they find themselves in. For example, people who find themselves in relationships with overpowering, dominating partners? And this is something that is repeated in not only sexual relationships, but with friendships, with parental figures, with employers, etc… This is not to say that an abusive boss is absolved of any responsibility for his abusive nature, but it more points out that the valency, or the timidity of the employee, the inability to speak up for ones self, the need to please others by sacrificing ones self… is brought into the spot light for this particular topic. A therapist whose parts of the personality that finds them dominating in their own personal life, will be drawn into the (transference) submissiveness of the patient and find themselves acting in more of an overpowering, controlling way than they are used to themselves performing in the therapeutic setting.
What are the aspects of the person in question that allows for situations to be repeated in their lives over and over.
Whilst talking to a new patient that almost instantly brought a lot of anxiety and the need to get rid of and evacuate any hint of emotion.. I was describing what Psychotherapy is, and what the sessions would entail… in my description of what was to come I said something along the lines of, ‘we are just here to have a “chat” about…’
As I was reading the session back to my Supervisor I quickly became aware of the inappropriate use of the word, ‘chat’ as THIS was no ordinary chat. I knew my patient was exceedingly nervous and was completely evacuating all of this quite violently into the atmosphere. Whilst her outward appearance was one of ‘togetherness’ there was certainly huge amounts of uneasiness in the air. I, on the other side, being someone in a personal capacity, wanting to support and help everyone and anyone where I can, came out of therapist role and tried to lighten the load for my patient, and I told her… don’t worry I won’t psychoanalyse you, I will sit here, and have a chat, ‘would you like tea or coffee with that Mam?
For Bion, when referring to group dynamics:
“For instance, ina situation where intense emotion is present, one or more members may regulate the intensity through joking, direct soothing, or diversion, thereby taking up the sociable role. It is the function that is important, rather than the individual or perhaps even the specific mode. On occasion, under intense affective stimulation and in the absence of a member with the necessary valency, a person might (unconsciously) be called upon to fill a role that is quite alien. This process is labeled role suction (by Redl 1963) and role responsiveness. (by Sandler 1976). ”
“Bion uses the term ‘valency’ to describe a tendency within the individual which results in their behaviour fitting in with the current basic assumption.
….thinking about it in its unhelpful sense, “it is a crucial responsibility of the supervisor to ‘help the supervised to reflect upon his/her own talent tendencies’. In this way they will be more able to avoid imposing their own difficulties, as reflected in basic assumption valencies, on the clients or patients that they are working with.
Omand (2009). Supervision in Counselling and Psychotherapy:An Introduction. Palgrave Macmillan
Rutan, J.S., Stone, W. N., Shay, J. J. (2014)(5th ed) Psychodynamic Group Psychotherapy. The Gulford Press