Deirdre Walsh, MA. and Debra Davies
I would like to look at psychotherapy and the changes that have taken place in it over time and what the possible face of psychotherapy will look like in Ireland in the future. Particularly, I would like to introduce Core Process Psychotherapy, which has been a slowly expanding presence in Ireland over the last five years. With upcoming weekend workshops and the beginning of a foundation course here in the near future, I believe the interest in this approach will blossom even more. CPP is a coming together of Eastern Buddhist Psychology and awareness practice and Western psychotherapeutic theories. It falls into the Humanistic and Integrative category of psychotherapies and is affiliated to the Association of Psychospiritual Psychotherapies, in England. CPP looks to work with people in a holistic way which includes the Spiritual dimension as well as the Mind, in its broadest definition, and with the Body, as the seat of the emotions and source of valuable information. The key focus for the practitioner is the development of Awareness. This is achieved through focusing on the therapist’s own ability to become more aware and open to experience by awareness meditation practice. I will attempt here to briefly explain where this approach has come from in terms of the history of psychotherapy.
The Historical Perspective
Briefly, in order to examine what the future of psychotherapy in Ireland may look like and at where psychotherapy is going more generally in the Western world, I will look at where it has come from and its evolution. I intend here to show how psychotherapy has moved, evolved and expanded to include more and more of the human experience. Although many therapies trace their roots back to Freudian times and before, some are more directly connected theoretically than others are. Many have changed with the times to include newer experience, research and social focus. What’s presented here is a very generalised synopsis of psychotherapeutic ideas. The simplification is used in order to show the transition of interest in the main focus of the different psychotherapies over time. It is not intended to cover every type of therapy.
The Mind and the Psychodynamic
If we see modern psychotherapy as stemming from Freud, Jung and the whole psychoanalytic movement, we can see how the central focus was on the unconscious mind and the emotions. Both Freud and Jung initially kept the therapist out of it, in that the therapist was unobserved by the client during the sessions. This was intended to foster the focus on the client’s own process and free association, and to allow the full transference to manifest. Perhaps it was a reflection of the more rational scientific days before observer effect was recognised. The therapist was looked on as the “expert”, coming from the very prevalent medical model at the time. It was the therapist’s job to interpret the outpouring of the client in the light of established theory. Stemming from here came the whole psychoanalytic and the psychodynamic movement; looking at how the unconscious affects our behaviour now and looking at transference and projection from our early life experiences as a source of explanation. The focus for current difficulties was on understanding the past with the mind.
It is true to say that transference was Freud’s idea, but the focus of working with this was in the context of the relationship between the “expert” therapist who knew more and the focus was on the client only. Using the transference and countertransference; i.e. what comes up for the therapist in relation to the client’s transference, was developed more by later psychodynamic therapists. What I’m saying here is that the idea of the therapist being in authentic relationship as another human being didn’t come until later with Carl Rodgers and the whole personal growth movement. It is also true to say that Jung was interested in the Transpersonal with his ideas on the collective unconscious and the archetypes as universal images or symbols. But somehow the individual spiritual dimension of each person was not the focus, as it is becoming now, with the upsurge in interest in the psychospiritual therapies like; Psychosynthesis and Core Process Psychotherapy.
The Interpersonal and the Humanistic
Newer focus, in the States, after the Second World War, began to look at the clinical evidence for what was found to be effective in therapy. Carl Rogers developed Person-Centred Therapy in the 40’s based on his findings that empathy; unconditional positive regard and congruence were the key features for effective therapy. He, along with others in the humanistic personal growth movement began to bring what was happening for the therapist more clearly into the dynamic.
Fritz Perls and the others involved in the early Gestalt movement in the 50’s, developed an approach which very much emphasised the importance of the here and now with an emphasis on how clients can learn to take responsibility and have choices concerning their lives. This introduced a very dynamic approach to therapy which included the use of therapist feedback and challenging in interventions and the well-known tools of empty chair and the more expressive, cushion work. Gestalt became a very individualistic style therapy, with less of an emphasis on theories of personality and so on. There was an emphasis in early Gestalt in New York, in therapists finding their own way of working and of not trying to tie down the dynamic quality of the approach with set theory.
The focus now seemed to be less on the mind, as in understanding intellectually, the reasons for current difficulties and more on the importance of what was going on emotionally right now in the moment in relation to the difficulties and to the therapist. Much of this style of approach became popularised in the sixties and seventies with the blossoming of encounter groups and increasing accessibility of the ideas of counselling and psychotherapy in the more mainstream of society.
The Body and the Biodynamic
Running concurrently to these trends and developments in the talking therapies that I’ve discussed above, there is the theme of the body and how this comes into the picture of psychotherapy. To look at the modern origins of the body in psychotherapy, we look to Wilhelm Reich. He was a contemporary of Freud and very much influenced by psychodynamic ideas. His departure from Freud came because of his interest in how psychodynamics were held or manifested in the body. He was pioneering in his ideas about body armouring and developed theories around body types and how psychological defences where held physically in the body. His ideas opened the way for Bioenergetics and Biodynamic Psychotherapy with Alexander Lowen and Gerda Boysen. In brief synopsis here, body workers by- pass the mind with its intellectual defences, and hope to work directly on the traumas in the body. The development within this branch of therapy has changed most significantly in how the therapist works with the body. With Reich and his early followers the work of the therapist was to break through the body armouring, the defences, and this perhaps was mirrored in the early talking therapies. What has developed over time is more of recognition of the necessity for our defences in order to function in life and this has fostered a more gentle approach to examination of defences and working with them for charge. This applies to changes in taking therapies also, but I believe was seen more dramatically in the bodywork field.
Other bodywork psychotherapy sees the body as the seat of the emotions as well as physically holding the effect of everything that happens in a person’s life in addition to inherited trauma. The work of Gendlin in the 50’s and his system of Focusing suggested for the talking therapies that the body is the place to look to find feeling in an unfixed form. Focusing works with the body without being hands-on. Carl Rogers took up Gendlin’s ideas in his work and Focusing is also part of how C.P.P. includes the body in the work.
The Psycho spiritual
To come now to the psychospiritual and the movement towards inclusion of the spinal dimension in psychotherapies, which was the missing or implied aspect of many theories.
The spiritual does have a history in older psychotherapies. Jung had a complex system of archetypes and myths from the collective unconscious, which puts Jungians firmly in the transpersonal realm, even if not the psychospiritual. The transpersonal suggests something above, beyond or outside in which the therapeutic relationship is held, something beyond the personal.
Roberto Assagioli followed on from Jung and Freud with a model which includes the spiritual dimension as an essential part of his approach which he called Psychosynthesis. Psychosynthesis has spread widely in Europe, from its roots in Italy, and has a number of different training institutes in England and has been practised in Ireland in recent years. Both Psychosynthesis and Core Process Psychotherapy are part of a subsection of the Humanistic and Integrative psychotherapy section of UKCP (UK conference of psychotherapy), called the AAPP, the Association for Accredited Psychospiritual Psychotherapists.
The spread and interest in CPP and Psychosynthesis, I believe is a part of the increasing interest in having the spiritual dimension of people included as a part of the whole. I believe that much of psychotherapy is actually soul work and I believe that the current versions of the therapies I have mentioned above often recognise and work with this, perhaps in a non-explicit way. Psychotherapy must and does respond to the societal trends which, as we bridge the millennium, seem to be searching more for spiritual meaning. What we have when we include this dimension is work with the mind, body and spirit in relationship. This is the holistic place that Core Process Psychotherapy intends to come from.
Core Process Psychotherapy
Having put CPP into an historical context I’d like to explain and introduce in more detail what CPP is and hope to give you a flavour of it. CPP is based on a depth understanding of human personality process and of human potential. The spiritual foundation and the understanding of the human mind come from Tibetan Buddhist Psychology. Forged with this is the history and practice of psychotherapeutic theories and skills as used in the West. There are many similarities with humanistic therapies, for example the present centred, focused, the difference being that with CPP the understanding of the power and potential of “being here now” is seen from a bigger perspective. The focus on the therapist in training is to learn to increase and improve their own abilities to be present to themselves, and to others, through awareness practice meditation, and to develop mindfulness and open-heartedness. The “core”, in CPP, is considered to be that unconditioned state inherent in every h uman being. It is the potential of pure open awareness in the present whose q ualities manifest as peace, compassion, loving kindness and joy. Our “core process” is the movement from this inherent core state towards a sense of separateness and personality formation. Each of us shapes our personality into a unique form, which we identify with and see the world through. CPP facilitates an awareness of this shaping process in which we hold the shape of our past experience in the present moment.
The focus of the work is to explore this personality shape and the suffering that arises in attachment and identification with it. In CPP there is always the possibility of being with the difficulties as they are in the present moment. It is often hard to actually be with difficulties, without trying to change or suppress them. Trusting the process is the key. This means trusting that however tough things are, our deepest core is moving us towards healing and self-actualisation. With this trust, grasping the nettle of our difficulties not only frees up the energy used to suppress the pain but also enables us to embrace experience as an opportunity to learn. In trusting the process we can recognise that our problems do not reside in our experience itself, but in our ability to tolerate our experience. This demands that we stay open and vulnerable to our experience; ‘this is how it is for me, right now” instead of “this is how it is’. The CP practitioner brings the same vulnerability into their work with clients. This creates a non-directive approach – we never can know how it is for another – and also establishes the practitioner’s experience as a rich source of information and a vital aspect of the relationship. The practitioner contains and is responsible for their own experience and awareness and also stays open to their experience in the session with the client. Working with compassion, the therapist intends to be fully present without judgement to people who may be in pain or suffering.
[Deirdre Walsh M.A., is an accredited Core Process Psychotherapist working in private practice in Cork for the last five years.
Debra Davies is a Core Process Psychotherapist with UKCP, who is living and working in West Cork.]