A group of psychologists and psychotherapists involved in different health care services for people with severe, lethal or deeply disabling somatic illnesses discuss the difficulty of their job when tackling the pain of the limit, the loss, death and emotional resonance it evokes.
The identification with terminal or severely injured patients is a difficult process: it sometimes leads to a defensive distancing, in other cases it is so intrusive that it hinders the distancing, which is necessary to develop a proper therapeutic relationship.
Other difficulties of the therapist job in this specific field are linked to the uncertainty of time perspective and to the possible setting variation, which is usually the patient’s house.
The authors built a supervision group with an external health care professional and they were conscious that this emotional burden can hinder the therapeutic relationship and leave a sense of heaviness and helplessness in the psychologist’s mind. Over the years the meetings transformed from a case supervision to an “emotional laboratory”, where the focus was put on the therapist who told about his/her life experiences and his suffering/ pain in the relationship with these patients. The person who brought up the “case” felt that his/her “own” pain was shared, together with their patient’s one. When the therapist experimented the freedom of expressing his/her emotions, which were combined with the other participants’ ones in a new many-voiced storytelling, the impotence, destructiveness and death became thinkable and much lighter.
The role of the group as a mental container, which was enabled through a climate of confidence in other people and in the external health care professional, gave a new boost to the thought and restored the hope, though limited and realist, of being helpful for the Other.