Negotiating Proximity in a Therapeutic Context

Presentation delivered by Roz Carroll, on Saturday 26th September 2015, to the International Attachment in London, N19.

Written by John Adams and Tirril Harris

After a brief introduction of herself and the format of the workshop  we were invited to stand in a circle to practice what Roz called sociometry. 22 of us then those that had travelled to the workshop by Tube were invited to move into the centre of the circle. Connection was beginning as people looked around to see who was with them. Then those who had come by bus, followed by those who arrived by bike. Those in the circle stepped out and we continued with different qualifications to enter the circle so everyone had a chance to do so. The last few themes involved knowledge of attachment theory beginning with little, moving up to living and breathing it. Most of our group were in the middle! The group were more animated and there was laughter.

The next thing that took place was walking around the room where some people sat out. Quickly, the group found a way of negotiating the space; connecting and belonging.

Discussion followed on the effect of proximity in the therapeutic room. It was widely thought that the space and the furniture had an effect. In the room where the workshop took place, the walls were literally covered with paintings of Rabbis which had a big presence. One member of the group said that he found the paintings oppressive whilst another experienced them as reassuring.

A discussion followed concerning the purpose of proximity seeking. Roz said that it is a two-person dynamic which in a baby is a bodily- focused process developing into an emotional attunement and affect regulating need. We discussed the ways that are used to evoke the desired response.

The term "mentalisation" was used and this ignited a big response from those who believed the term had been developed for purposes other than clarification of a process of empathy or attunement which was already familiar to many therapists. Roz voiced the capacity to imagine what another might be thinking and feeling required an awareness of our own thoughts and feelings. It was also suggested that reflecting on differing contexts was important for understanding what others might feel, and that reflective function was the reason why a more cognitive-sounding term like "mentalisation" had been introduced. This lead into our last exercise.


We paired off and sat opposite our partner. We were to maintain eye contact as much as was comfortable and not to speak, with our hands resting on our thighs, palms facing up. After some time we were told to raise our hands up to our chests, palms facing our partner, later to reach out to our partner. We finished by beckoning our partner with our forefinger, voicing words or sounds if we wished. I think this worked profoundly.


I think the focus on attachment was present throughout. Roz held the group loosely but purposefully. Daniel N Stern (2004) says "we know a great deal about how past events influence present experience. But we have not paid the same attention to the nature of present experience as it is being influenced and is happening." He then asks "How would psychotherapy and the therapeutic change look if the present moment held centre stage?" I believe this workshop was one of the ways of looking at and experiencing means of finding answers to that question. 

John Adams and Tirril Harris

ian 1 Fairbridge Road, London N19 3EW (Near Archway Underground)

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