"The Wearing of Attributions": A Guideline for Therapists to Discover Who They Have Come to Be for their Patients
THIS PRINCIPLE OF TECHNIQUE CRYSTALLIZED for me when I found myself repeatedly telling therapists whom I supervised, "You are searching for the patient's latent message to discover the transference, the who that the patient unconsciously and consciously regards you to be. All the while you ignore or fail to utilize the opportunity available to you through the patient's overt or implied attributions about you. You should 'wear these attributions.'" From infancy on, humans follow a particular pattern in giving meaning to relationships. Infants detect salient features of emotion stirring interactional sequences and develop categories for similar repeated events such as feedings or "conversational" playing. As attachment research attests, by one year of age infants distinguish between a familiar caregiver and a stranger and have a clear category of expectations of how their caregiver is likely to respond to their entreaties and distress. Once they enter the realm of symbolic processing, toddlers draw inferences from their intersubjective experiences. Parents have long held a view of who their baby is to them: a very special little girl just like her mother, or a burdensome, demanding whiner. Now child and parents use their experiences with one another to create
identities that typify their lives together. Each person uses the mirroring they receive from the other to stabilize their identity and to regulate their interactions. This process of finding oneself in the mind of the other becomes a central feature of exploratory therapies. I have called the guideline that facilitates therapists locating and accepting who they have come to be in the minds of their patients the "wearing of attributions."