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bookREVIEW: The 3-Point Therapist

Hilary A Davies
United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy, 2009, pp122

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Reviewer Grace Hopkins

A light-hearted book which is easy to read and compelling enough that you are likely to read it all in one go. Its uncomplicated style and gentle insight offers a welcome alternative to other more dense texts, with bite-size chapters that can be returned to and picked up with ease. The tone of the stories reminded me of Aesop’s Fables or the way Paulo Coelho uses allegory; another feature which made the book accessible. The reader observes the relationship between a trainee therapist and her supervisor unfolding in a ‘neat and orderly room’. Through the trainee’s clinical work with individuals and families, we encounter the 3-Point therapist and her approach to the therapeutic process.

Hilary Davies captures the anxious energy of the trainee authentically; I imagine many trainees would be able to identify with this struggle. The enthusiastic trainee seeks knowledge and recognition and is desperate to be the ‘best therapist anyone could be’. This is repeated at the beginning of the book, which feels unnecessary although it draws attention to one of the first interventions of the 3-Point therapist, who re-frames her quest constructively, as becoming ‘the best therapist that you can be’.

I found other parts of the portrayal unfair and confused. We are presented with a woman who is both achieving academically and engaging in clinical work and yet punctuality and preparation are her first lessons. This raised a question in my mind about this character who is engaged in her work but seemingly unaware of her own processes and their impact on her clients. I found myself expecting a little more from the trainee, so this is where I had to suspend my disbelief; I would have preferred a more accurate depiction, which went some way to acknowledging the depth of learning psychotherapy training has the potential to facilitate.

The pace of the book and the dynamic between trainee and supervisor forms part of an unfolding process which is paralleled, not only by the trainee’s work with clients, but the processes of the clients themselves. This acts a gentle current throughout the book. There is a clear contrast between the trainee and the calm, wise 3-Point therapist who conveys her boundaries as clearly and simply as the three points. This is the main relationship through which the three points are illustrated and the other relationships are explored. The supervisory tone was a little condescending at times and I wanted the 3-Point therapist to show less superiority and more humility.

Hilary Davies may have been revealing a therapeutic model, but for me it communicated the idea that the therapist might not have anything to learn from another, be they client or trainee; this was a missed opportunity to model a valuable and creative aspect of the work, that of being impacted by others and vice versa. The author’s choice to illustrate her message with three points at first seems as though she is embarking on the impossible – how can you possibly convey the complexity of psychotherapy in three points? In one sense it seems to capture the novice’s desire for quick answers, that there might be an ultimate place to reach in three easy steps but, having read past the front cover, it is clear that there is a need for much more than the three points and Davies draws attention to the work done alongside and as a result of the three points.

Much like the Rogerian core conditions – which we could take for granted in their simplicity – the 3 points have an impact on the work and, if we look further, might also point to the limitations of therapy, the work the trainee has to do alone or indeed the number three as a symbolic reference to the triangulations within the work.

I like to think that Hilary Davies is reminiscing on her own early years as a trainee therapist and has chosen to capture the experience in this book, which expresses the familiar territory of a novice trainee. The analogies are useful in adding colour and humour and the stories that moved and engaged me most were those that conveyed a reality and illustrated connection and healing between client and therapist.

Even though the author does not attempt to break new ground in this book, she brings us back to the ingredients she values which could in turn be valued by those working with people in a therapeutic setting or, indeed, as the book invites, ‘for all those interested in relationships’. The 3-Point Therapist offers reassurance in its familiarity to a therapist at the start of their training, and a humble reminder to the more experienced therapist that the work we do with clients and families is an honour because of the opportunity to engage with them in a unique relationship.

Grace Hopkins lives and works in London; she is a finalist on an MA programme in Integrative Psychotherapy.