Thursday, 26 May 2011

On Being Ordinary

I've just finished reading Cultivating Intuition: An Introduction to Psychotherapy, by Peter Lomas, a British psychoanalyst and writer I hadn't encountered before (thanks for the tip, Hilary). Lomas has a strikingly direct and down-to-earth approach and 'voice' which I found immediately engaging, and trustworthy. The broad drift of the book's argument is that psychoanalysts need to shed their reliance on a mystique of special knowledge and expertise, and the special (or, perhaps more accurately, peculiar) way of relating to the 'patient' that follows from it. They should risk, he suggests, being more ordinary:

Given that she will fall short ... of an ideal helper, what qualities should the therapist display in the relationship? These, I believe, are primarily those that are required in ordinary living whenever, and in whatever way, we aim to facilitate the well-being and growth of another - in teaching, in social work, in bringing up children, and so forth. These are the qualities that most of us would probably list as the virtues of a good and mature person: strength, honesty, patience, humility, humour, shrewdness, a capacity to love, and so on. These are not, of course, capacities that the therapist can produce out of a hat any more than a man can add a cubit to his stature. She can only hope that she is not so lacking in them that she is a menace to her patients, and that such qualities as she possesses and the advantage of a quiet room ... will enable her to give an attentive hearing to the plight of her patients and to feel a response to their intrinsic worth. (16-17)

Lomas is exploring the quietly heretical position (heretical from the perspective of orthodox psychoanalysis, that is) that what matters, what produces results in the therapeutic encounter, is not theory, technique and expertise, but the quality of the relationship between therapist and client. I don't want to suggest that Lomas is a closet anti-Freudian: amongst the many virtues of his book is the way that it articulates the power and usefulness of Freud's core insights. But he is, it seems, trying to bring psychoanalysis more into line with the focus on the therapeutic relationship that has become central to most other orientations since (at least) Smith and Glass's 1977 research review, which suggested that differences in theoretical orientation didn't actually have much to do with the effectiveness of therapy. 

What's also striking though, is that this means Lomas is moving in directions that are recognisably person-centered: 'attentive listening', 'a response to [the client's] intrinsic worth', the 'intuition' of the book's title, which comes through as being pretty much what Rogers means by empathy. I'd strongly recommend Lomas, then, as someone who has useful things to say to the person-centred reader, and says them in a direct, engaging prose which is fed by deep reserves of professional and personal wisdom. But I don't want to co-opt him as a covert p-c practitioner: if I trust him because of what he has to say about intuition, empathy and 'ordinariness', then it also makes me want to listen carefully to what he's saying about why Freud's core concepts are still at the foundations of his practice. Two-way streets tend to be the lively and interesting ones.

Peter Lomas, Cultivating Intuition: An Introduction to Psychotherapy (Jason Aronson Inc.,1993)
Smith, M. L., & Glass, G. V. (1977). Meta-analysis of psychotherapy outcome studies. American Psychologist, 32, 752-780.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Respect to Bob

Partly because I want to see if I can handle this embedding video thing, partly because I feel bad that I missed his birthday, and partly because it's just a joy, I give you Bob Dylan, following wherever those organismic impulses and the English language lead (thanks to Chris for the video tip-off):

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

I want to start things rolling with a return to the source that's also a signpost towards new territories - something that represents the spirit of open exploration I'd like this blog to embody. This, then, is Carl Rogers in 1977, towards the end of his life, talking about becoming aware only recently of a new sense of the word 'politics' being in the air

 ... in such contexts as 'the politics of the family', 'the politics of therapy, 'sexual politics', 'the politics of experience' ... 
This new construct has had a powerful influence on me. It has caused me to take a fresh look at my professional life work. I've had a role in initiating the person-centered approach ...  But I have never given careful consideration to the interpersonal politics set in motion by such an approach. Now I begin to see the revolutionary nature of those political forces. I have found myself compelled to reassess and reevaluate all my work. I wish to ask what are the political effects (in the new sense of political) of all that I, and my many colleagues throughout the world, have done and are doing.

(Carl Rogers on Personal Power, London, Constable, 1978)

Rogers's list of 'contexts'  shows that he is responding, overall, to the new social movements and countercultural thinking of the sixties and seventies in the US - here, the women's movement and the anti-psychiatry of R.D.Laing and his associates. What I'm drawn to is the attitude that this passage represents. It's one which is entirely in line with the theory of the 'fully functioning person' that Rogers had been developing since 1940:

He is able to experience all of his feelings, and is afraid of none of his feelings. He is his own sifter of evidence, but is open to evidence from all sources; he is completely engaged in the process of being and becoming himself, and thus discovers that he is soundly and realistically social; he lives completely in this moment, but learns that this is the soundest living for all time. He is a fully functioning organism, and because of the awareness of himself which flows freely in and through his experiences, he is a fully functioning person. ('The concept of the fully functioning person', Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice, 1963, I, 17-26)

The theory gives us the picture of a person secure enough in her self-awareness to risk being open to others; with a strong enough sense of his own values and valuations to be un-threatened by 'evidence from all sources'; flexible and confident enough to accept her self as emerging in and through process, 'flow', the unfolding unexpectedness of 'moments', the plurality of experiences. 

Rogers's personal reflection gives us a glimpse of how this might work out in practice: responding to a young whippersnapper asking awkward questions at a lecture not with defensiveness or dismissal, but as another spur towards a radical re-evaluation of your life's work; changing your mind at the end of a distinguished career and following through the implications in public, in print; remaining open not only to the influence of other individuals, regardless of (in this case) their age or professional status, but also to transformations in the zeitgeist - in world-views, theory and ideology; to meet a challenge to your fundamental principles as an invitation to new questions, new directions for the work.

There'a lot that I admire and can aspire to in that orientation to living. And as a trainee, I find this a useful point of reference for when I meet the voices - loudest among them, sometimes, my own - which say 'Show me this superwoman, this Buddha in his enlightenment, this so-called fully self-actualising person'. This isn't about deifying Rogers, whose biography suggests he fell short of his own theory and aspirations in more than one area of living. But I do think this bit of Rogers's experience gives us some clues about how the theory might play out in our ordinary lives and practice.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

FIRST blog, first post, and some first steps:

What's this blog about?

It's about exploring a dialogue between the person-centred understanding of the self, and other perspectives - therapeutic, philosophical, imaginative, scientific. It's about opening the person-centred world-view to fruitful cross-cultural encounters, energising disagreements, and leaps of the imagination. It's about making links, following hunches, pursuing connections which may help us enrich our understanding of what goes on in ourselves, in our relationships, in the therapeutic encounter. 

Just now, I'm excited by the pathways between person-centred territory and the outlands of existential therapy, Karen Horney's reworking of Freudian practice and theory, Shakespeare's late comedies, and the neuroscience of child development. So that should keep us going for a while. But as we go, I hope the paths will deviate and multiply, and we'll find ourselves needing a whole new set of maps.

Who's it for?

Maybe, like me, you're training to be a person-centred counsellor; maybe you're training in another counselling or therapeutic orientation. Perhaps you're already up and running in your counselling practice, and are looking for another way to keep alive your connection to ideas and dialogue around counselling . Or maybe you're just someone who's still actively engaged in becoming a person. Whichever path has led you here, welcome to what I hope will be an unpredictable, open encounter between perspectives and voices - in dialogue, in process.