Response to Colm O’Doherty

by Maria Moran

I would like to comment on Colm O’Doherty’s article ‘Thoughts on A Spirituality of Psychotherapy’ which appeared in Inside Out, Volume 69 (Spring 2013). In this thought-provoking article the question this author settled on after a rather refreshing preamble was: “Can I bring a faith perspective to that part of my life that I spend working as a psychotherapist with clients?”

My immediate response to this question, a response that came from deep within my being was… oh yes!! I recognised instantly the importance, for me, of attempting to be fully present as I sit with my clients. I consider the faith perspective, out of which I have chosen to live, to be an expression of my spirituality and how I make sense of and find meaning in my life. This in turn informs how I relate and connect with others. Norcross reminds us how crucial the therapeutic relationship is to a successful outcome of psychotherapeutic encounter:

Psychotherapy outcome research has not supported the notion that specific therapy techniques are a major contributor to client progress when compared with the contributions attributable to the therapeutic relationship…. The therapeutic relationship is vital in contributing to client progress…. Empirical research strongly and consistently supports the centrality of the therapeutic relationship as a primary factor contributing to psychotherapeutic outcome.

Norcross (2002:17)

If this is true and I believe it to be so, then I have an obligation to be present to my client as fully as possible in all aspects of my humanness. Carl Rogers’ understanding of the therapeutic relationship continued to develop throughout his professional life and in 1986, not long before his death, he wrote of the importance of ‘presence’. Thorne supports Rogers discernment and spoke of this same phenomenon which he described as “tenderness” or “interrelatedness” as follows:

It is clear to me now that the decision to trust the feeling of interrelatedness was a first step towards a willingness on my part to acknowledge my spiritual experience of reality and to capitalise on the many hours spent in prayer and worship. It was as if previously I had refused to draw on this whole area of experience in the context of my therapeutic work. In my zeal not to proselytise it was as if I had deliberately deprived myself of some of my most precious resources in the task of relating to my clients. Once I had opened myself to myself, however, I was capable of entering into the communion of souls, or the membership of one another, which is a fundamental given of the spiritual life. I still remain convinced of course, that it is iniquitous to use a counselling relationship for evangelising. I am no more likely now to talk of God or religion in my professional work than I was in earlier years. The difference is that I now attempt to be fully present to clients…and this means I do not disown my eternal soul and leave it outside the door.

Mearns and Thorne (1999:39)

It is my feeling that as a profession we are bashful about admitting the importance of including this perspective in our work and, yes Colm, my disclosure in this dialogue does feel a little uncomfortable, almost as if I am divulging a secret weakness! Why so, I wonder?

Maria Moran MA is an accredited psychotherapist with IAHIP currently working with individuals and groups in Co. Wexford.

References:

Norcross, J.C. (2002) Psychotherapy Relationships That Work – Therapists Contributions and Responsiveness to Patients. New York: Oxford University Press. Mearns D., Thorne B. (1999) Person Centred Counselling in Action. London: Sage.