A Coming of Age Conference

by Ger Murphy

One sign of growing maturity in an individual or organisation is the ability to reflect. The recent one-day conference held by the Institute of Creative Counselling and Psychotherapy in the Mont Clare Hotel, Dublin on  June 11th 2005, was such a reflection point.

The Institute was celebrating 21 years of psychotherapy, counselling and training service to the public. One hundred and twenty practitioners from the fields of psychotherapy, psychology, counselling among others were in attendance. The conference was organised around the theme of coming of age. This theme reflected a reality in the life of the Institute, but also was echoed by the professions of counselling and psychotherapy paralleling such a development, as they too have only developed in Ireland over the past 20 years of so. Questions were asked as to how to be as a mature adult Institute and as a mature adult profession in Modern Ireland.

To explore these themes presentations were made by Una Maguire, Colm O’Doherty, and Helen Jones on significant developments from the birth, childhood and adolescence of the Institute. These included discussion on the context for Psychotherapy in the Ireland of the 1980’s, the development of training programmes and professional standards which the Institute was intimately connected with, and latterly the broadening of service provision to partner other bodies.

There followed a presentation by David McCormack, Liz Norris, and Gerard Perry, all graduates of the Institute’s Psychotherapy training programme who took the psychotherapeutic understanding into other fields, these being, third level education, business consulting, and health service psychology provision respectively. Here we heard how the psychotherapeutic frame was valuable in understanding the vulnerability of adult learners, the need for clear un-split attention in business and the relational versus mechanistic organisational models in health services.

The whole day was ably facilitated by Barbara Fitzgerald. The keynote address was given by Professor Andrew Samuels, of Sussex University, a noted Jungian psychotherapist, lecturer and writer. Andrew has a special interest in how psychotherapy can link into the wider society and offered a valuable presentation on this relationship. He emphasised initially that there was not a seamless field “from the soul to the world”, and that the relationship between the internal and external was a problematic one. He noted the very high levels of political apathy, guilt and withdrawal in society currently, as seen in the low voting turnouts in recent elections. Such a cultural depression he stressed, was intimately connected to aggression. Our proximity to massive aggression potentiality in atomic weaponry etc. makes the maintenance of relationality most difficult. The world where such aggression exists, he claimed is one where, like Orwell’s 1984, all nuance in language is removed, a sense of regression to the paranoid-schizoid position a la Melanie Klein came to mind for me when he spoke of this. If this agony of danger and aggression is too much to bear then the pain gets somatised, we psychologise this depression, personalise it and he postulated that our current excessive concern with obesity is related to this dynamic.

The conference delegates were then asked to sculpt their relation to the political domain. This was a distressing sight as we groaned, hid, and walked away from political engagement. Andrew’s point of despair and apathy being widespread was borne out. Andrew then went on to consider the question of political leadership. He borrowed from D.W.Winnicott’s concept by introducing the idea of the “good enough leader”. He wondered if the citizen could find a middle way between the idealisation and devaluation of the leader. Andrew postulated a love affair between the citizen and the heroic leader. Perhaps we need “can’t do” politicians rather than “can do” ones we don’t believe – as Rumi says “failure is the key to the kingdom”. If people are to regain a faith in the political domain we must find a way to include the vulnerability of the leader and the power of the citizen, and we must value failure rather than hide it.

Psychotherapy itself, Andrew stressed has its own political life. He commented on the acquiescence of psychotherapists to aggressive regimes, Freud, Jung in Europe, Argentinian psychotherapists “shopping”clients to the Facist authorities. He also alluded to the heterosexual normativeness within psychoanalysis in particular. He suggested that the “maddening rectitude of the therapist should be given up”, and “while there should be a therapist on every committee please god never a committee of therapists”.

Andrew then went on to offer an experiential exercise where we all brought to mind our first political memory. This was a powerful and illuminating experience, especially when we were asked if we had discussed this in our own psychotherapy. Only 6-8 had done so. Andrew’s point was that this early memory was potentially formative just as other childhood memories, but is neglected. Such remembering is one step toward re-engaging personally with the political sphere. He then emphasised how such a re-engagement was necessary, as currently we have, he felt, a “value-free politics” in the West which has lost commitment and ethic in the face of M.T.V. news and with it a “dumbing down” of political debate. The only vibrant critique now may be the Islamic one, (he emphasised the need to distinguish Islam from terrorism). Perhaps Islam is the only “real other” just now which holds challenging views on sexuality, liberty, duty etc. The value of such an opposing voice is clear, and he quotes Harold Searles: “ The value of otherness is to get to know something outside yourself”.

In ending Andrew encourages therapists to make their unique contribution to society and the political sphere and in this way assist the coming of age of psychotherapy in Ireland (especially a Celtic Tiger Ireland, living on borrowing perhaps !).

In the afternoon the participants looked at how they might be effective psychotherapists in Ireland today in small groups, and how the profession needed to make more a public contribution, this may include further conferences as this was an energising and affirming experience. We concluded with a short coming of age ritual, which ended a valuable and stimulating day. What was most notable was the appetite for such discussion and conversation, and this highlighted the need for more such events. The interest in exploring the place of psychotherapy in society is obviously strong. This interest may be linked to the relevant questions being asked about the place of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy was clearly a part of the solution when it emerged in Irish society in the 1980’s, a time where private spaces were needed in a time of loss of old structures e.g. religion. But now when we see rampant individualism with the loss of community and connectedness, the question needs to be faced – is psychotherapy part of the problem ? The conference began a conversation to explore these issues in a reflective way.

Ger Murphy is Executive Director of the I.C.C. P. and has worked there since 1987. He has been involved in Psychotherapy training for many years. He was a founder member of both ICP. and IAHIP and he began the journal Inside Out with others. He currently works as a supervisor and psychotherapist to organisations and individuals as well as being an external examiner and consultant to a number of training schools and coaching leader in the private and business sector. He also now practises as a yoga teacher, and integrates this in his teaching and practise of a somatic approach in integrative psychotherapy.