The Healing Community

Jim O’Donoghue talked with Tim Hannan

I think that people who are devastated by life’s circumstances and who cannot 
possibly work fully in a non-residenttal setting need residential psychotherapeutic 
and medication-free pastoral centres. Because they cannot work in non-residential
 settings they either remain in terrible psychological, spiritual and physical pain,
 creating havoc in relationships, or they go to the psychiatric services, where they
 are then, diagnosed with a psychiatric illness. In Ireland at the moment, 250,000
 people are said to have ‘depression’ as though they had a mental illness. In fact,
 they are people who are devastated by life’s circumstances, passed down through
 the generations and through the current family. They spend years on medication, 
being maintained in illness, and their symptoms are kept at bay, but there is no
 healing intervention. What these people need is a psycho-spiritual accompaniment 
by carefully trained psychotherapists or accompanists, who would really 
accompany them on the journey of their present life and draw into their present 
adult (however small that adult is), the devastation of the past. Very often it is not 
possible to do that on a non-residential basis because it leads to huge turbulence 
and disturbance, both within the psyche and the body. There needs to be a place 
where they can work through this and integrate it into their current lives, so that 
they go out and form better relationships and fit better into community life.

Psycho-Spiritual Emergence

In my work, I accompany such people at great depth and it seems to work very
 successfully. Some of them have been in and out of psychiatric hospitals and on 
medication for years, and got nowhere. In fact, what they were dealing with was
 some kind of psycho-spiritual emergence from the past, not with psychiatric 

Failure to Love

I see a huge improvement in the future if we can heal families, so children will
 grow up with less devastation and disturbance. If we can heal religious 
communities, there might be a chance that there will be some kind of spiritual
 leadership, so badly needed in our country and everywhere at the moment. The old
 structures don’t make sense any more. Spiritual growth can’t be institutionalised 
because it belongs to the unique call of each person. When people are psycho-
spiritually healed, they love better and that’s at the core of all healing in society.
 If our politicians and our church people loved better, they wouldn’t be as corrupt
 as some of them seem to have been. If people could love better, so many of our
 children wouldn’t be on drugs, and so many of our young people wouldn’t be
 committing suicide, particularly our young men. Alfred Adler said that all
 difficulty is a failure to love and I identify with that really strongly. All difficulty
 in life at some stage is a failure to love.

Chemical Solutions?

There is absolutely no scientific proof that these so-called psychiatric syndromes 
are caused by some kind of chemical aberration. It may well be. It sounds like a
 reasonable explanation, as Ronnie Laing said, but there is no scientific evidence for 
it. It’s a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Because certain chemicals are fed into 
your system and maintain you in equilibrium, which is a form of social control, 
then we assume that the issue is bio-chemical. But we know, especially from
 transpersonal, transgenerational work, phylo-genetic work, that even where stuff
 did come down through the generations, it can be healed and the future lies there.

Differences Between Psychiatry and Psychotherapy

Some professors of psychiatry are trying to compare the outcomes of 
psychotherapy with the outcomes of organic psychiatry but, of course, they are two 
totally different approaches and deal with totally different things. The problem is
 that many people who need psychotherapeutic accompaniment end up in
 psychiatric clinics and have their symptoms modified. Their relationships in their
 family life, church life, sexual life and so on, continue to be as bad as ever, but they
 are held in equilibrium and some kind of social control. Therefore it is claimed that
 the outcomes from organic psychiatry are better than the outcomes from 
psychotherapy. I don’t blame psychiatrists because they are not trained in
 psychotherapy. They are trained academically in bio-chemistry and biology and in 
recognising symptoms, but they are not trained to know the uniqueness of the
 person. They are not trained to recognise transpersonal and transgenerational 
devastation and disaffection.

Some Exceptions

Of course, some psychiatrists have trained in psychotherapy. We had a 
psychotherapy day hospital in Mount Pleasant in Ranelagh in Dublin but in the 
cutbacks in 1988, that was closed. That was an excellent place where wonderful 
work was done in healing communities. We are also very fortunate in that one of
 our Clinical Professors of Psychiatry for many years was also a psychotherapist,
 Professor Ivor Browne, but like many prophets he wasn’t always accepted in his 
own country. There are now other psychiatrists who have gone to the trouble of
 training in psychotherapy, and we have been very fortunate, in our three centres in 
Dundalk and in Gardiner Street in Dublin and here in Kedron, in being able to work 
with a number of those.

Centres for Healing

I like the word ‘centre’. Some people have set up organisations for therapy and 
called them ‘institutes’ and so on, but the word ‘centre’ speaks of core, which is the
 word for heart. It speaks of the centre of the human person and it speaks of the
 centre of a community. As well as speaking of the heart, it speaks of the hearth 
around which people gather, so centres like this can be an energetic healing 
presence within the community in which they exist. I think that the very presence 
of a centre like this has an outreach through its commitment and through its way
 of seeing things, that is healing in itself. At Kedron, people come to us from the 
community for healing, for psycho- spiritual accompaniment and for pastoral care.
 We have a Bereavement Group here, which is run by three specially trained 
bereavement counsellors for people where there has been a suicide or other loss in 
the family, and that reaches out into the community. We belong to the Worldwide
 Community of Christian Meditation, and we have a Meditation Group which is at
 the core of our work here. So centres like this can be centres of pastoral care for 
the community.


Recently I did a workshop with my colleague, Sister Catherine Whyte, at St.
 Michael’s Family Centre in Sligo, on the whole problem of seeing oneself as 
worthless. There were 28 people at that workshop. People are coming in large 
numbers to that Centre for various kinds of growthful and healing activities, some
 for counselling, some for educational programmes, some for workshops, some for
 meditation, some for self-understanding programmes like the enneagram, and this
 is having a wonderful effect in the community. The programmes we have here at
 Kedron include groups and individual psycho-spiritual accompaniment, that 
people attend from the community. In fact a number of local doctors, both in 
Edenderry and in the surrounding counties, are sending people here for help. So
 there is a recognition among doctors that psychotherapy, psycho-spiritual 
accompaniment, and healing though the process of an interior journey have an
 important place in rebuilding a more loving society.

Training Psychotherapists

Like every other profession, psychotherapists are now looking at the body of 
theoretical and practical knowledge that is available, and at the methodologies that 
are developing, and asking how can we bring those together so that 
psychotherapists will get the best possible training. In the European Association for
 Psychotherapy, we now have the bones of a seven-year training programme, but I
 do think that we need to be more specific in that training. For instance, in my 
opinion, to be a psychotherapist, in addition to experience of the various
 psychotherapeutic modalities, you need to have a training in anthropology to
 understand human nature; you need to have a training in the great thought 
processes of the millennia that are past. We need to learn from our ancestors, so
 there is a need for training in philosophy. There is a need for training too in the 
understanding of literature, because literature is the communication of human 
experience in writing and a training in literature is of immense value. There is a 
need too for a training in spirituality. There are many ancient spiritual systems in
the world that have contributed enormously to understanding the personal and the
 transpersonal and the transcendent sense that is in us all. There is the need also of
 course for understanding the body, with its bio-chemical and anatomic and
 biological systems.

Experience Within Myself

Teilhard de Chardin said that my body is the very universality of things so
 somewhere and in some sense I contain all of the universe within me. I have a long 
journey to make to be an integrated human being. I dare not sit with anyone else
 on that journey unless I know it as an experience within myself. [This is another
place where psychiatrists don’t work, they don’t work with themselves. They 
have a hugely high rate of suicide as a profession on that account] There is a need 
therefore, for the psychotherapist to be constantly making that journey into the 
unknown interior regions of self.

Own Therapy

Some psychotherapy courses insist on personal psychotherapy for the trainees 
while they are in training. I think it is an ethical standard that all psychotherapists
 must be in therapy themselves all the time. I have been in therapy, I suppose, since
 about 1961 and I don’t know whether it is doing me any good, but that’s not the 
real question. I have learnt to explore the depths of myself, personally and
 transpersonally and to sense the transcendent and that sense of mystery that is
 within us all. That is a necessary part of training and of ongoing practice as well.
 Of course we are not infallible, we don’t always see the wood for the trees. It is
 really helpful if we come together in small groups and individually to review our 
work constantly with each other, and to have a kind of pastoral review of that work
 so that it will be fruitful. So those things need to be knitted into the whole 
development of psychotherapy.

Healing Families and Systems

Some therapy lays so much emphasis on individual work that great damage is done 
to families and systems. I think this sometimes happens particularly where there
 is work being done with sexual abuse and rape, where families aren’t taken into
 that work and therefore relationships, already damaged by the sexual abuse, aren’t
 healed. Perhaps someone was sexually abused in childhood, and grew up and
 married and then the marital relationship broke down: if that person goes away and
 works with their stuff and gets deeply into the traumatic stress of it, very often the 
marriage partner and the children are left out in the cold. They can be totally
 puzzled by what is going on and angry and uncertain and being told by the person
 who is in therapy to wait. We have to find ways of bringing the whole family
 together. Couples must be brought together, there must be family work, there must 
be individual work and it’s all part of the therapeutic work. They are not separate.


We talk about Gestalt groups and Tavistock groups and Right Relationship groups,
 but as a group therapist I tend to be eclectic and generic in the way I work. I get 
in there and mix it, as they say. It’s very hard, when I come to refer people to
 groups, to find groups that I am happy with. Here at Kedron, we have a number 
of groups and we hope to develop more both for after-care for our residents and for
 people in the local community. They come here and they do a one-or-two-week programme or a thirteen-week programme, or they can have a break then and do
 another thirteen week programme. We find that works very well and generally the 
feedback we get is excellent. We have a huge number of enquiries from people 
who want to come here. But we are very conscious of the fact that, when people
 leave the kind of hothouse of therapeutic pastoral residential programmes and
 systems, they go back out into ordinary life. There is a whole readjustment process 
and therefore we have an ethical responsibility to provide after-care.

International Dimension

There is an international dimension to our work that presents us with some 
difficulties. It is hard to find therapists in Africa, and we have had people from 
Africa on every programme; but funnily enough we have succeeded so far, by 
tearing our hair out, doing the research on this. In Britain, we have a tremendous 
service through the Clinical Theology Association with which we are associated.
 They have throughout Britain a series of consultants and trained pastoral carers and
 pastoral counsellors who can continue that kind of work for us. In Ireland of
 course, we have therapists almost all over the country to whom we can refer people 
in the knowledge that they will the continue the same kind of work that we have 
been doing with clients and that’s a great help. We also hope to get more groups 
going here, and we are providing days for people who were residents with us to
 check back in for a day, meet their therapist, have a group session, have a meal
 together, have an individual meeting with one of the directors and look at how their 
planning is going. We are always working and developing other systems to help
 people to go back into their communities, into their families, into their workplaces,
 fruitfully rather than damagingly, for themselves and others.

Can I make one final comment that I would like to be included? I am really sad
 that Inside Out is coming to an end. I have watched it grow and I’ve watched an
 enormous amount of voluntary work put into producing something that has helped
 to professionalise psycho-spiritual accompaniment or psychotherapy in this 
country. I know that the present editorial team feel that it has now fulfilled its
 purpose and I am a real believer that when something has fulfilled its purpose, it’s
 time to bring closure to it. I am delighted there is a book coming out. but I hope
 the journal will be replaced with something or there is going to be a big lacuna
 there. It’s a case for grief. It’s a bereavement that we are going to suffer in its 

Jim O’Donoghue was formerly the Director of the Dundalk and Dublin
 Counselling and Therapy Centres and is currently the Director of the Kedron
 Counselling and Therapy Centre in Edenderry.]