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  • Chris Allan is a clinical psychologist and Director of the Psychology Clinic at the University of Wollongong. He has a strong interest in both cognitive and psychodynamic therapies and an ongoing fascination in the interaction of technology and psychology. His interests are varied and include martial arts, playing guitar, cooking, chess, clothes, poetry and computer gaming. He is married with two children two dogs and a budgie.

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The Relaxed Therapist

...or maybe she was just "puzzled"?

One Christmas, seven clients each gave me a bottle of wine. As I don't drink alcohol (and never have), I'm not sure what I did to invite this...I'd never been given alcohol before and haven't been given any since!


I believe that we can only understand offers of gifts by listening to patients on a case-by-case basis. The latent meanings symbolically represented in the patient’s communication are of the utmost importance in terms of understanding the trigger for the gift, the meaning of the gift and the possible meanings of our responses to the offer of the gift.

When we listen to multiple levels of communication in a session, the underlying meanings of these 'acting-in' phenomena may be represented quite clearly, but your crossword puzzle example serves to remind that the gift itself is a communication. The symbolic expression of latent meaning in a gift of crossword puzzles is one of those unforgettable and extraordinary things that can occur in psychotherapy. The patient may have manifestly explored her anger with you, but apparently still felt some anger that was defensively disguised as a 'gift' of 'cross words.' As a 'puzzle,' the gift also seems to contain an invitation for you to decode the patient's cross words.

Unconscious processes are ingenious. I've got to hand it to you for letting the meaning of the gift get through to you as quickly as it did. This is the kind of meaning that can easily elude recognition even as it stares us in the face. We all know that what seems obvious in retrospect is often not on the radar of our awareness as we try to understand what is happening in a session. Yet once we see the meaning, the pieces fall into place. It's a great story. Thanks for sharing it with us.


I am always delighted the way another therapist will look at a gift and its interpretation and provide another or deeper interpretation to the one already made. This is a nice observation by Dr X that the crosswords were also a puzzle to be decoded. Wish affect and conflict.

However Relaxed Therapist’s seven bottles of wine may have just been seven bottles of wine. Would we make a different interpretation however if all seven clients knew the therapist liked wine or even more interestingly if all seven knew he didn’t drink :-)



And what of the patient who gives the therapist who's thumb is anything but green, not just a plant but a minature evergreen? I think she's always wondered if I could keep her alive...


I agree that gifts can be symbolic. I know of a patient that once offered her therepist a gift of a box of tissues. There had been none in the room and she was worried that his other patients needed them.


My father is a psychiatrist, and I was always stunned by the sheer numbers of fruitcakes and nut mixes he received from patients every year. Either they were being intentionally funny or else the unconscious at worl!

larginine plus

Most herbal tea is purchased in the form of a processed tea bag.

Calvin Klein

thank you1

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