Training Opportunity: The Relational Challenges of Sexuality in the Consulting Room

A one-day workshop with Paul Renn hosted by nscience UK – 4 October 2014 from 10.00 am – 4.00 pm

12 Upper Woburn Place
London WC1H 0HX

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Event Details: Even though the last few decades have focused on post-Freudian developmental theories, resulting in a certain de-eroticization and de-sexualization of psychoanalysis, research has shown that sexuality is, in fact, very much alive in the consulting room. In this one-day workshop, which would be of value to psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors, Paul Renn explores the sexual attraction between therapist and patient from a relational standpoint. He draws on developmental studies and ‘moments’ theory to explore the relational and ethical challenges of sexuality in the consulting room, while highlighting enactments and the contentious issue of self-disclosure. Paul demystifies the evolution of sexuality in psychoanalytic thinking and questions the efficacy of developmental perspectives. The workshop uses both theoretical discussion and clinical case studies in the morning session to help us understand the many facets of consulting room sexual attraction.

In the afternoon session, attendees break into small groups to explore their own experiences of sexuality in the consulting room. The small group task is designed to enhance our understanding of a relational perspective on working with sexual attraction. Specifically, the goal of this experiential exercise is to help us to find the language to talk to our patients about this often taboo aspect of the therapeutic relationship. Paul argues that being able to openly engage with our patients’ sexuality not only facilitates change, but also precludes the premature ending of the therapy, on the one hand, and the violation of a sexual boundary, on the other hand.

Paul Renn is a UKCP accredited psychoanalytic psychotherapist, training therapist and supervisor in private practice in London. He has a background in the National Probation Service where he specialized in working with violent individuals and couples. He subsequently trained at the Centre for Attachment-based Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, recently renamed the Bowlby Centre.

Paul has presented papers at international conferences and devised and facilitated seminars and workshops on attachment and trauma, violent attachments, sexuality in the consulting room, memory, trauma and dissociation in psychotherapy, and on the internal world and the process of change. He is the author of a number of book chapters and journal articles published in the UK and translated for publication abroad. He is a member of the Forum for Independent Psychotherapists, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the International Attachment Network, the International Association for Forensic Psychotherapy, and the International Association for Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. He is on the editorial board of Psychoanalytic Inquiry and is the author of The Silent Past and the Invisible Present: Memory, Trauma, and Representation in Psychotherapy (Routledge, 2012). For details,click here

Seminar Schedule:

9.45am: Registration
10:00am: Session 1 – Contemporary Developmental Perspectives on Psychosexuality: In this first session, we consider the shift that has occurred from Freud’s drive theory, which views sexuality and aggression as innate constitutional forces motivating mental functioning and human behaviour, to post-Freudian developmental theories that emphasize pre-oedipal conflict and the regulation of affects in the mother-infant relationship. From this relational perspective, human sexuality is viewed as an emergent property of a unique interpersonal context rather than originating in a universal Oedipus complex. The session concludes with a brief exploration of the problems involved in integrating love and desire, attachment and sexuality, in long term intimate relationships.

10:45am: Session 2 – Sexuality in the Consulting Room: In this session we consider the somewhat taboo topic of mutual sexual attraction between therapist and patient and discuss the different forms of love that may emerge in the therapeutic relationship – attachment love, romantic love, lustful love, lust without love, and transference love. In this context, we address the clinical issues of enactment and self-disclosure and explore the factors that may lead to a sexual boundary violation occurring.

11:30am: Coffee Break

11:45am: Session 3 – Moments of Meeting: A Clinical Vignette: Paul presents a vignette from his private practice in this session to illustrate the way in which he used his integrative relational model, informed by a developmental sensitivity, to engage with a patient who had expressed a desire to have a sexual relationship with him. He emphasizes the clinical significance of creating a meaningful and authentic emotional connection with the patient, arguing that this may involve selective self-disclosure that can feel somewhat risky. Paul demonstrates the significance of playfulness in our clinical work, while stressing the importance of maintaining ethical boundaries between ourselves and our patients.

1:00pm: Lunch (a light lunch is provided as part of the workshop)

2:00pm: Session 4 – Exploring Our Own Experience of Sexuality in the Consulting Room: To inform the small group task, Paul presents a brief paper that sets out a range of possible scenarios that may have arisen in our clinical practice, and in which, at times, we may have enacted the role both of seducer and the seduced. This reflects the view that both therapist and patient bring their habitual patterns of relating and loving to the therapeutic work. Thus, the erotic transference is shaped by ongoing mutual enactments which, in turn, are influenced by the therapist and patient’s respective attachment histories and internalized object relations. In this context, attendees will be encouraged to explore various forms of self-deception, such as defensive compartmentalization, splitting and projective disavowal that may be used to tolerate behaviours that would otherwise be regarded as unethical.

2:15pm: Session 5 – Small Group Task: Attendees break into small groups to explore their own experience of sexuality in the consulting room. A hand-out will be provided to facilitate this task. One of several goals of this experiential exercise is to help us to find the language to talk to our patients about this often taboo aspect of the therapeutic relationship, and thus to openly engage with our patients’ sexuality.

3:15pm: Coffee break

3:30pm Session 6 – Plenary: Attendees will be invited to share their experience of the small group exercise and discuss any issues outstanding from the morning session.

4:00pm: Close