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Psychological Contracting

Psychological Contracting – Leanne Lowish

Last year, I ran a teleconference call on psychological contracting with the current students on CSA’s Diploma in Supervision course. It was based on a chapter written by Michael Carroll and in it he says that:  ‘Individuals bring to their contracts and agreements their own assumptions, beliefs and expectations most of which will be unspoken and un-negotiated. This part of contracts is called the “psychological contract”, the subjective side that contains our hidden agendas in respect of the covert contract’.

Since that call I have been reflecting on my psychological contracting and have realized I do this stuff everywhere – my most common one seems to be: if I am nice to you then you will like me and do what I want! Of course if the other person doesn’t play ball… and why should they as they do not have knowledge of the contract that I have set up with them… then I feel disappointed and resentful – and in my less aware moments, my common exits are into victim or persecutor and I set up for myself a nice little karpman drama triangle (please look at CSA website for more information on KDT).

One of my most powerful psychological contracts that I have unearthed is with my own coach and it goes something like this – my responsibility is to turn up, pay my money and be a good client and yours (my coach) is to be the expert and to fix me! Whoa! that’s a powerful contract that’s been running the sessions. As you read this it might be useful for you to pause here and reflect on the psychological contracts you have with your coach or mentor or someone that you turn to for guidance. What are they and how do they play out – what is the impact on you and with the other and how do you work with them?

My coach’s psychological contract is you (meaning me) are the expert of you and I am here to assist you to get where you want to go. Big difference and what can happen is that I am waiting for him to tell me what to do and he is waiting for me to tell him what I think I need to do – no wonder I sometimes leave the sessions feeling frustrated – sound familiar? How many of you experience that dynamic going on with your clients?  What happens, what do they do, what do you do and how does it end?

The wonderful thing is now I am aware of it and the tragedy is that occasionally, I still continue to play it out! Ah, the power of the unconscious mind. I have heard human beings being referred to as slow learners and quick forgetters – I sometimes have a big aha moment and think my life will be changed forever and then fall back into the same pattern and sooner or later have the realisation yet again.

Thank goodness for supervision and coaching and mentoring and good friendships and diaries and CPD and all the opportunities that are there are for us to be constantly reminded to reflect and explore and reveal our blind spots. This enables us to be aware of the cracks and blemishes and chips and dark spots on the mirror we look through so that they don’t impair our vision. What are your cracks and blemishes – what are the assumptions, beliefs and expectations you are bringing to all your relationships and how can you bring them out into the open?

What about your clients  – is there space for them to explore their assumptions in relation to you – how often do you ask your clients about their psychological contract with you and how they feel about their relationship with you and what are their assumptions and expectations of you and this work? We do this at the beginning in the contracting but do we revisit it? Remember the slow learners, fast forgetters!


On the call we came up with some ways to unearth the psychological contract:

– Re-examining, bringing into consciousness the contracting

– Re-contracting – unearthing assumptions

– Listening to my body

– Asking what I am not bringing up or talking about

– Assuming nothing, inquiring into everything

– Going slowly, allowing spaciousness

– Having courage to say ‘hang on, can we go over that again?’

– Making sure I stay in a conversation until real clarity emerges

– Going into adult and avoiding victim or persecutor (in TA speak)

– Developing the capacity to self observe

– Paying attention to details

– Working together with the person – relationally and conversationally

Are these part of your regular practice and how could you bring them more into your work?

Leanne Lowish – Assistant Director CSA