by Alison Hunter
The interview with Ger Murphy in the current issue of “Inside Out” (No. 41, Autumn 2003) has prompted me to write this article as I see my task as a Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapist, in Virginia Satir’s words, to be ‘a joint discoverer’ with my client, to enable her/him to become the person she/he would like to become. As an Integrative and Humanistic Psychotherapist I use any of the many skills I have integrated into my being and practice over the last thirty years, that I believe can help my client to integrate the often painful and traumatic life situations that are making present day life so difficult. I call myself eclectic. A dictionary definition is 1) Selecting what appears to be the best in various doctrines, methods or style, and 2) Composed of elements drawn from various sources.
Sometimes the client has come to me as a last resort with no hope, but wanting to discover whether there can be any hope. Many times over the years I have found myself believing on behalf of my client, that things can get better and a way can be found to a purposeful and positive future. Let me give some brief examples of how I function as a Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapist:
Jane comes to me saying that she has a problem with her boyfriend. When they are close he wants sex but she just wants a cuddle. She says that the more cuddles she gets the more she wants and she is terrified of this tremendous need which is being exposed. She says that she has sex just to get a cuddle. She does love him and feels that this need of hers may drive him away. Can I help?
Going over her family history she tells me that as a child she can’t remember ever being cuddled by either her mother or father – in fact none of her family touched each other in a loving way – so it was not expected. So – how to remedy this?
Briefly, because this would obviously take time:
1) Jane begins to acknowledge that this enormous need began in childhood, but had never been recognised before, as she had never wanted to get close to anyone until she met her current boyfriend.
2) As Jane is no longer a child with parents who should give her cuddles the deprivation of loving touch needs to be seen as a death and grieved accordingly (even if parents are still alive they are unable to meet this need even though unconsciously Jane may still be looking for this).
3) As an adult Jane will now need to learn to parent her own inner child. To do this I suggest that she takes a soft toy, or a small cushion and treats this toy or cushion as she would have like to have been treated as a child. She can do this at home and thus begin to meet the needs of the emotionally deprived child. I also suggest that she talks to the child (possibly called Janey) and gets responses from her.
4) Hopefully she will be able to explain to her boyfriend and he will understand.
It will be noticed that I have used a variety of approaches to help Jane. I have listened very carefully to her story. I have used my knowledge of Object Relations Theory and Erikson’s Developmental stages (she is stuck at a prepubescent stage). I have suggested she uses a dialogue technique from Gestalt. My knowledge of the grieving process comes from Kubler Ross and Murray Parkes. Transactional Analysis helps identify the relationship Jane has with her boyfriend.
Mary comes to me with chronic anxiety, so I first help her to calm down by suggesting she sit down with both feet on the floor and begins to breathe more slowly and deeply. I model this for her so she may follow.
Then I listen to her story. She says she has no need to be anxious, she has a comfortable home, a good husband and a job that she enjoys. She also says that this anxiety is quite crippling and she can no longer do the things she wants. She tells me of her family of origin – a loving secure home, but her mother was always a worrier. This is a clue to Mary’s debilitating anxiety. Her mother’s pregnancy with Mary was a particularly worrying time. The birth of her first baby had been an ordeal for both of them, her second pregnancy had ended in a miscarriage and Mary was her third pregnancy. All this would mean that when Mary was in the womb she was not only surrounded by her mother’s anxiety but was also experiencing it coming through the umbilical cord. Mary’s anxiety was therefore a double dose, her mother’s and her own. For the first time Mary finds an explanation that makes sense to her – but how to get rid of this anxiety?
I suggest that re-experiencing her time in the womb may not only give her more information but could also begin to bring down the level of anxiety she has every day. This is because traumas get trapped in the body and as they are released so the affect from them is lessened. Mary agrees to this and we plan a number of experiential sessions with her lying on a mattress on the floor. To access the repressed pain and memory she needs to be in a different state of consciousness and I have several methods of helping her to reach the necessary alpha state. When this state is reached she feels herself to be really small and terrified and she trembles all over and cries out wondering if she is going to be killed or if she can survive this. In her agony she promises to help her mother in any way she can and that she will always be a good girl (this is born out by Mary’s story that she was always mother’s little helper and her adult career is in a caring profession). After the session she is amazed at what she discovered and that it all rings true for her. As she leaves she feels less anxious.
The next time I see Mary she reports there has been some easing up of her level of anxiety so we continue with experiential sessions until her anxiety level has ceased to be of major importance to her.
To help Mary integrate her life experiences I have used my listening skills, my knowledge and experience of Reichian and Bioenergetic practice, Primal Integration as taught by Frank Lake and William Emerson, working with different states of consciousness as taught by Stan Grof and Rosalyn Bruyere.
Obviously in these fairly simplistic composite fictitious case studies many other considerations would come in during the course of therapy. I have used them as illustrations of how I use my eclectic skills gained from many different strands to offer what I call Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy. I also use guided imagery and spiritual practice where appropriate.
As a benchmark for effective psychotherapy I like to use the six basic dimensions as outlined by Truax and Carkhuff in Helping and Human Relations published in 1969, namely empathy, respect, concreteness, genuineness, confrontation and immediacy. I find that if each session can be marked on a scale of 1-10 I can then tell how humanistic and integrative the work has been!
The majority of my learning was initially from ‘the horse’s mouth’, when I attended workshops in America and Europe run by many of the pioneers of our work, and also my training with the Westminster Pastoral Foundation and the Clinical Theology Association in the late 60s and early 70s. However I have attached a list of books by or about the people I have mentioned. Please contact me if you want further details.
Berne, E (1964) Games People Play. London: Penguin.
Bruyere, R (1989) Wheels of Light. New York: Simon Schuster.
Bry, A. (1979) Visualization. USA: Barnes & Noble.
Carkhuff, R.B. (1969) Helping and Human Relations. USA: Holt Reinhart & Winston.
Erikson, E.H. (1950) Childhood and Society. New York: Norton.
Grof, S. (1985) Beyond the Brain. New York: State University of New York Press.
Jacobs M. (1995) D.W. Winnicott. London: Sage Publications.
Kubler Ross, E. (1970) On Death and Dying. London: Tavistock.
Lake, F. (1981) Tight Corners in Pastoral Counselling. London: Darton, Longman & Todd.
Lowen, A. (1975) Bioenergetics. London: Coventure.
Murray Parkes, C. (3rd Ed. 1996) Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life. London: Routledge.
Rogers, C. (1961) On Becoming a Person. London: Constable.
Rowan, J (1988) Innovative Therapy in Britain (chapter on Primal Integration Therapy). London: Open University Press.
Satir, V. (1972) Peoplemaking. USA: Science & Behaviour Books Inc
Stevens, J.O. (1975) Gestalt is. Utah: Real People Press.
Verney, T. (1981) The Secret Life of the Unborn Child. Sphere Books.
Ward, S. (1987) The Maternal Foetal Distress Syndrome and Negative Umbilical Affect. Self and Society, European Journal for Humanistic Psychology. Vol XV No 2 Mar/Apr