Carl Berkeley – a Reflection (1936 – 2004)

By Eileen Finnegan and Noel McGuinness

When news of Carl’s death reached us the impact was of losing someone very close, one always felt you knew Carl very intimately. Memories of our first encounters with Carl came flooding back and the feelings that these evoked will stay with us forever. As we write this from deep within our own hearts the pen flows, yet as we read it aloud we wonder? Is this too mushy or too soft? For such brief meetings the feelings evoked were very deep and if we are to be true to ourselves we need to share it with those who read this. Meeting Carl for us helped open us up in a way that hopefully can help us touch the lives of others through the therapeutic relationship.

Our first real meeting with Carl was as students with the Tivoli institute where Carl was part of the training team. He was going to be our introduction to the work of Carl Rogers. Before he arrived for the workshop we felt he was going to be up against it, as it was a weekend, and who wanted to give up a weekend for training!  Yet as it turned out two days wasn’t enough time in the company of this man.

When he arrived, this tall, grey haired man had a presence before he even spoke. He looked at you with eyes that were like windows to his soul and you wondered; is this the “way of being” that Roger’s talked of? and if so, how the hell could we hope to emulate this! As Carl spoke the room went silent, not just because he had this deep sexy voice but because of the level and depth of emotion in his words that instilled a feeling of warmth and calm that we still feel to this day. As trainee therapists the inner voice screamed – “how could you measure up to this man, what book would you need to swallow to even try!” Yet, as the weekend progressed it was evident that what we were experiencing had not just come from books. Through his capacity for empathy, congruence and understanding Carl invited you to enter his inner world, turning it into a deep and spiritual engagement. Even though there were other people in the room, contact was held in such a way that you felt like you were the only person there; you felt the “centre” of attention. The holding he provided, the connection he made with you and the absolute equality that you were treated with were to influence us far beyond the confines of therapeutic theory.

Carl was involved in much pioneering work, including working with HIV and Aids, addiction and in establishing accreditation criteria for counselling and psychotherapy in IACP. In his work with addiction, Carl worked with both the addict and the family looking at the impact of addiction on everyone in the family not just the addict. He showed such empathy for both, speaking of really wanting to reach deep within the person to find the broken piece, to allow it be visible and from ‘process’ healing began.

The last time we saw Carl was at the IACP annual general meeting in May of this year but unfortunately we didn’t get to talk. The last image we have of Carl is of him passing the microphone back and forth with Ursula O’Farrell as he passionately reminded everyone that in this work, what we call ourselves is not important but what we do is.

We think of Carl’s family, his clients and the people around him who knew him as a close friend. We read and hear of other people’s experience of losing him and can only imagine the pain of their loss. To badly misquote Shakespeare, it is far better to have met Carl and lost him than never to have met him at all.

His enthusiasm for his chosen profession, his commitment and dedication to maintaining the highest standards and his ability to integrate his very soul into his work set him apart. He in no small way contributed to the high regard counselling and psychotherapy enjoys in Ireland today. All who knew him will sadly miss Carl and counselling has lost one of its most outstanding characters. These words of Morris West probably sum up for us Carl’s attitude to life and living that life more eloquantly than we could:

“It costs so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the enlightenment, or the courage, to pay the price…. One has to abandon altogether the search for security, and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to embrace life like a lover, and yet demand no easy return of love.”

The Shoes of the Fisherman,  Morris West (1963)

Carl Berkeley was certainly someone who did have the courage to reach out with both arm and embrace life like a lover.

A memorial service for Carl took place in DCU on Sunday October 17th at 2.30 pm.

Noel McGuinness is a psychotherapist and group therapist working with sexual abuse and sexual violence.

Eileen Finnegan works in the areas of addiction and abuse, maintains a private practice and is involved with family resource centres.