Importance as a ‘Projection’

An account of how I learned to be a helping professional – not an instruction manual, but a prompt for you to explore your own story .

The importance that a worker might come to possess for a client will be a mixture of:

  • The significance of the role held by the worker
  • The way in which that worker inhabits the role
  • The projections that the client brings to the encounter

Now I have opened another complex door – ‘projections’. Here is a word that has been appropriated by those of a psychodynamic turn of mind. It refers to the process by which individuals interpret the world around them in accordance with their inner fantasies and preconceptions. More than this, it can refer to the way in which people can somehow generate behaviours and feelings in others that enact the preconceptions they hold. I will return to that point later. For the moment however, it is enough to refer to people’s preconceptions.

There is a wide range in the extent to which we are conscious of our preconceptions. So far so uncontroversial! Interestingly, I suspect that if I were to assert that projections are commonly unconscious, some people would find it harder to go along with the suggestion. Nonetheless, I do suggest that this is the case and that it is in fact a very ordinary assertion. It is commonplace for us to realise that our understanding of a person in authority was distorted should we come to know them as individuals outside their work environment.

People holding authority are especially accustomed to this phenomenon of projections. But if we take another example, understanding that there are unconscious projections is widespread. A black probation officer goes to court to deal with a case only to find that the court staff assume he is a defendant or defendant’s family. A woman finds that she is assumed to be the minute taker in management meetings. In my last role working for the National Treatment Agency, I found on a number of occasions that what I said was understood as a comment about drug users or drug treatment when I was speaking of broader or related issues.


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