Quo Vadis?

Ger Murphy talks to Alan A. Mooney

Ger Murphy has been involved in the world and work of psychotherapy for a number of years now. He is a founding editor of Inside Out and has contributed greatly to the development of the Irish Association for Humanistic & Integrative Psycho­therapy and the Irish Council for Psychotherapy. I asked Ger to talk about psychotherapy as it has been organised in the past five or six years and to look to the future.

The Irish Council for Psychotherapy originally started with a view to the outside. That is to say the energy to organise together came because there was a movement in Europe to legislate for psychotherapy and to bring it under some form of regulation. This Dutch backed European Association for Psychotherapy wanted to control psychotherapy fairly strictly into a core professional model. In other words psychotherapists would have to be members of certain professions first and then take on the secondary task of psychotherapy. These professions included psychiatry, psychology and perhaps social workers.

In Ireland there was a lot of discussion about this and a number of people got together – Michael Fitzgerald, from the analytic section, Ruth O’Donnell from the family and systems section and myself from the humanistic and integrative section. We thought there was a need for some kind of structure here, some kind of guidelines. Out of these discussions came an ad hoc committee that worked for three years. The guiding vision was that collectively we viewed psychotherapy as a profession in its own right, it was not an annex to any other profession.

All sections of the council now share this view that there is an important difference between the psychotherapist and other professionals in that they are not, (using Hegel’s model), in a master/slave discourse, they are not trying to teach people things – they’re not trying to tell people things – they are not trying to put things into people. The relationship of therapist and client is more of a discourse in equality where the individual is respected as his or her own director. This core philosophical notion builds right through the sections of ICP. The fundamental stance would be, to draw someone (client) into a process where they may find an answer for themselves.

Other countries have been thinking along the same lines as ourselves (UK, Austria, etc.). The former Dutch backed effort has fallen apart because it was trying to ‘close the stable door after the horse had bolted’. Psychotherapy has moved beyond the core professions, whether people like it or not, it has opened out to people who have come to it through different fields like education, psychology, nursing, medicine, etc. So now a new EAP has emerged, it is Vienna based and has a broader representation that recognises psychotherapy as a profession in its own right. The next step is to work out a way to get Europe wide certification of training agreed that would allow free movement across Europe – this is the main thing the EU wants from us. Generally the EU expects all professions to self-regulate standards of ethics and practice. The new EAP meets again in Vienna in June and the discussion will be around issues of joint certification of training. My sense is that agreement and clarity about this is probably a few years away yet. ICP has about 350 members who are registered and by their verbal and financial commitment they contribute a significant Irish voice to the issues.

The specifically humanistic aspect has developed well in this environ­ment. Again, at a structural level the Irish Association for Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy has taken on the challenge to develop useful structures of self-regulation. Recently, for example, the government issued guidelines on the mandatory reporting of sexual abuse. IAHIP has become well enough organised to have been able to make a very good and wide ranging response to the government document. With the kind of thinking enshrined in humanistic psychology, perhaps this response will draw out some of the complexities of the issues involved. I was very pleased to see it and it is a good indicator about how the Humanistic and Integrative organ­isation has come together enough to have an impact on government thinking.

IAHIP is also leading the way in the development of codes of ethics and a complaints procedure. I see IAHIP as a resource to other groups, even though it is only a few years in existence. This movement that has happened at a structural level has been very useful.

Humanistic psychology arose out of a counter movement, to a philosophy that tended to objectify the person. In a sense it became the ‘guardian’ of and the one speaking for the person. It guarded the specialness of the subjectivity of the person and objected to the idea of the individual being diagnosed, treated etc. without reference to choice etc. One of the dangers I see presented to the humanistic model as it now becomes more mainstream is that it might stop providing that counterpoint place, or that we can see an ownership of goodness and not see our own shadow.

In the last decades what the movement has offered is a point of dialectic between the humanistic and the analytical, it has kept the discussion base, the question, open. A concern I have is that if we get too much sameness and all the therapies align themselves with each other, then the fruitful place of fight and discussion may be narrowed. For example, the humanistic structure has focused very much on wholeness, satisfaction, potential, self-actualisation etc., if these are held alongside, for example, an analytical stance focusing more on lack, on adjustment etc. there needs to be that dynamic tension so that the values of each can be recognised. While guarding the potential to self-actualisation of the client it might also be OK to explore useful adjustment to their way of being. We do have to live in a social structure and a culture. It is important not to degenerate into a hedonism that says – to hell with everything, I’m going my own way. We need to find meaning in an interpersonal context, the ‘I’ can only be discovered in relationship.

Working with the person in the culture is what integration is about. It is important to hold wholeness as one of the poles of the subjectivity of the person with which we struggle in working to define ourselves. At the same time it is important to look to see what the culture asks of us in that definition.

Some of the pure humanistic movement has been criticised as being narcissistic and not taking the other into account (the partner at home, the family, etc.). I think the humanistic movement is a difficult one to belong to because it does not propose to have a definite answer or solution. It holds something that can be criticised from many perspectives because it can be seen as woolly, indeterminate and yet it is, I think, a very brave place to hold. I think something about the humanistic and integrative movement needs to reassure itself that it is a worthwhile place to hold.

There is an insecurity in the humanistic and integrative movement because it works with an ambivalence, the idea of a rigid, secure structure is not part of the philosophy. In any case it does not work to call in the experts, to make correcting adjustments.

There needs to be an openness to meaning-making, to soul-making – to what people desire in themselves. I think the humanistic and integrative movement has a place to ask some of the questions that explore these issues. We need to take on culture more. I think that the continued level of philosophical debate is necessary because people who have come into the area of humanistic and integrative therapy have entered an area that is very broad and they need to be sure of themselves.

It is not about throwing culture and theory away but rather about integrating difference. We need to demand much more from ourselves because we need to consolidate our own theoretical place, our roots in culture and philosophy and to draw it out much more. For example, we need to trace our roots through existentialism and phenomenology back to Platonic thought of essence and appreciation of beauty. A simplistic focus on feelings and their release is shallow without grounding ourselves in our proper purpose.

Eugene Gendlin (the founder of ‘Focusing’) talked recently about how he feared humanistic psychology and therapy was dwindling away. It wasn’t producing a second generation of thinking, of solid, well focused thought about where it stood and therefore it was not developing its vision in terms of understanding itself.

Humanistic psychology was founded as a counter-culture and could always say what it was not. In the second generation it needs to say what it is. I see this as the work of the next fifteen years or so. I think there is also room for what is called spirit – to understand our place in the broader context. It is part of the urge to belong, and of course our continued focus on the body is essential.

In the ICP we have spent time looking at where we can agree on things to do with therapy: now we are beginning to look at where we are different. We are looking at where there can be useful tension. It is not a question of formalising and defining differences but rather holding them and in that tension allowing creativity to emerge. Yes, of course standards need to be in place but there also needs to be a creative development within each section otherwise there is danger that we may become a ‘dry stick’.

There is an element of anarchy about it all insofar as therapy is always slightly outside the rules, sitting with the person and asking questions like where is the person, who is the person, what are the desires, what burns and motivates the person? Therapy is counter-cultural in that it always holds the subjectivity of the person juxtaposed to the rule of law. It is like a sanctuary where the kings soldiers cannot come. It is the world of the sacred, the magic, it is often outside the everyday and the common-place. It allows the person a freedom to explore his or her potential to be fully human. My belief is that humanistic and integrative psychotherapy will continue to espouse these ideals in the future and I look forward to being part of that consolidation which might be described as a unity in the diversity of human development.

Finally, on a broader scale, I was pleased to recently to see the formation of a new organisation in the UK, of ‘Psychotherapy for Social Responsibility’ who are highlighting psychotherapists’ contribution to wider social issues in the environment, social policy, education etc. Humanistic psychotherapy here could have some contribution to developing such a forum in Ireland. After all, Carl Rogers espoused the view that the fully functioning person was innately socially conscious and spontaneously made a contribution to change at a macro/social level as well as at an internal and familiar level.