Sitting in the Grey: Letting Go of Either/Or

Caitríona Kearns, Director of Registry & Operations, IICP College, Dublin.

As we approach the Third International Conference for Pluralistic Counselling and Psychotherapy in Dublin (28-29 March 2020), I find myself reflecting on my own journey toward pluralistic practice and research. I was very young when I started training as a therapist —probably younger than I should have been—and I have literally grown up in the profession. We often hear that therapists’ own stories influence the work we do, and my early years were not without their fair share of chaos and confusion. As a child, I lived in a world of anxiety, constantly seeking control. I hated not knowing. I loathed the uncertainty, the gnawing maelstrom of the unknown. I despised the shaky ground, the ever-present questions and freezing fear that bombarded me from every angle. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that, as a researcher, my natural philosophical position has always been on the positivist side. I like structure, numbers, and statistics. I like the idea of an objective reality that exists and can be found. In many ways, my childhood anxiety was the breeding ground for my positivistic philosophical position. I wanted to find the causes. I wanted to know the answer. I wanted to discover what would work, what would make things better, what would give me certainty.

Conversely, as a therapist, I must sit with the not knowing, with multiple realities, with the perception of my client; and with my perception, with my ideas about what might work and with my clients’ preferences. Despite my positivistic leanings, as a pluralistic practitioner, I firmly believe that there is no one therapeutic truth, that every client will want and need something different from me, that there is no one perfect therapy. And there it is! The word that I have come to realise underpins my positivistic leaning…perfect! Perfectionism is the bane of many a therapist and therapist-in-training: the double-edged sword. On one hand, it has driven me to study, to expand my therapeutic menu, to learn more and understand more, to be better. On the other hand, it has driven me to absolute distraction as I grapple with failure, and the inevitable disorienting dilemmas in clinical work, in teaching, and in research.

Pluralism is perhaps the ‘perfect’ antidote to perfectionism. It challenges me to consider ‘and/both’, and let go of ‘either/or’. It encourages me to be open. It breeds reflexivity, which in turn creates uncertainty. It literally exposes me to ‘the grey’ on a constant basis, which has forced me to grow in a way I could not have foreseen.  Letting go of ‘truth’ has allowed me to learn in a different way, to see through various lenses, to intentionally consider client preferences and multiple methods rather than relying solely on what I think I know.

As part of the organising committee for the forthcoming conference, I am excited by the diversity of presentations that await us. The thread of ‘deliberate practice’ runs through many of the abstracts. Likewise, there are numerous presentations about creative and different ways of working with clients. Furthermore, a number of papers suggest a growing political focus for therapists. The conference provides us with a space to stop, listen, reflect, and network. Such events afford the opportunity to see what’s happening out in the wider world of therapy research and practice and to liaise with others in the field. I hope to see some of you in Dublin 2020!


Click here for more information about our 2020 pluralistic conference.