Wonderings: An Open Letter to IAHIP

by Pat Comerford

To the Chair, the Governing Body, and my fellow members of IAHIP,

I have written this letter following personal reflection and individual conversations with some of my IAHIP Southern Region colleagues. It is my response to the Chair Report and the ICP Representatives’ Report in the July 2016 IAHIP Newsletter (IAHIP, personal communication to members, July 8, 2016).

The opening three paragraphs of the Chair Report invite some interesting and important personal wonderings and questions about the possibility of change for our future; change in our identity as humanistic psychotherapists and in IAHIP as our professional body.

I delighted in the report’s opening quote, the first verse from one of the greatest and most iconic 20th Century protest songs for American civil rights – “The Times They Are A-Changin” and about which the Chair says “…seems apt to me just now…” (1). I am wondering is this a signal that IAHIP is going to engage more in protest for individual rights in the future. An example sprang to mind when I read Dylan’s words, does IAHIP have a position on repealing the eighth amendment?

It is stated that, “It would appear that our profession has been contemplating change for some time” (1; bold type added). This significant statement raises for me several relevant questions that come from a genuine experience of personal ignorance. What are the signs for the ‘appear’ance of this contemplation about ‘change’ in our profession? What type of change is being considered and in what way(s) has it been contemplated? In addition, what period of time is represented by ‘some time’?

I have some other questions that arose for me as I read the Chair Report. One such question, will IAHIP continue to be a voice for change, difference, and diversity? I ask this as I am unclear when it is said that the perceivers of “change, difference and diversity” find this “potentially threatening” and “perhaps rightly so” (1; bold type added). Moreover, on what grounds do the perceivers rightly feel threatened by change, difference and diversity? I am unaware of any such threat. On the contrary, change is something I believe in, which I delight in, and to which I extend a warm welcome – once the change in question is based on considered and judicious discussion in addition to informed personal reflection. Consequently, I am wondering if IAHIP has any plans to assuage any felt sense of change, difference and diversity as being potentially threatening.

What ‘contemplating change’ actually means in practice is an important question and worthy of further discussion. It will give all of us, as members of IAHIP, the opportunity to explore change and its direction in our profession and in our professional body.

I am wondering whether perhaps among the membership we are perceptually visualising different types of change. I am seeking clarity about what change means for the Chair, the Governing Body of IAHIP, and for the members of our professional association.

The Chair Report comments that “We end up only seeing what fits into our already well-established (and experienced based) perception of ourselves, others and the world” (1; bold type added). As a member of IAHIP, the ‘experienced based’ framework I work and live by is grounded in humanistic philosophy and humanistic values. However, I do not regard this as an ‘end up only seeing’ professional and phenomenological position. It is, in fact, the core of my identity as a humanistic psychotherapist and my being human.

Another phrase in the Chair Report about which I am unclear is “rather than what is” (1; bold type added). I wonder if there is a suggestion here that we in IAHIP know the ‘what is’. Moreover, is this ‘knowing of what is’ independent of, or separate from, the client’s phenomenological experience of his / her own personal reality? A belief in knowing ‘what is’ does not necessarily promote “…the humanistic value of developing authentic relationships” (IAHIP, 2016b: 4), and by holding this point of view, do we not run the risk of developing an “exclusive” as opposed to an “inclusive” (Comerford, 2015b: 26-27) mindset within our profession and in our relationships? I am uncomfortable, therefore, with this impression of dichotomy: therapist and client, expert and non-expert. I wonder if I may have misunderstood the meaning and possible intent in the phrase ‘rather than what is’.

Further in the Chair Report we read “…being a psychotherapist which is synonymous with openness, acceptance, empathy and (mostly) unconditional positive regard” (1; bold type added). I am unclear about the use of the word ‘mostly’. I consider that each of the four ‘core conditions’ presented are of equal importance in our professional relationships.

I identify my job as a psychotherapist. What is more crucial is that I identify my professional position as a humanistic psychotherapist. I am therefore a humanist. Broadly speaking, as a humanist I cherish beliefs and thoughts “in which human values, interests, and dignity are considered particularly important” (Law, 2011: 1). I, then, as a humanistic psychotherapist will fully attend to the person and my relationship with them by nurturing the core Rogerian or humanistic conditions (Comerford, 2015b: 27-28) as I enter into the shared, relational space of the therapeutic contract. The essential nature of this ‘relational space’ is largely influenced by the psychotherapist’s willingness to be both philosophically and experientially authentic in each moment. To explore in more detail the specific characteristics of the humanistic outlook of the psychotherapist would require a separate article.

I am also not clear about the purpose of highlighting IAHIP members as being “ordinary folk” (1; bold type added). In essence, are not therapists and clients equal to each other – a core humanistic value? I suspect that, at times, humanistic psychotherapists are subject to feeling “...threatened in the same way as ordinary folk” (1). I regard these occasional feelings of ‘threat’ as worthwhile phenomenological experiences and encounters for both me, the therapist, and the client as it is an opportunity for both of us to be courageously authentic in our transparency with each other in our “here-and-now” relationship (Comerford, 2015c: 42-43).

I value enormously when the important and “inclusive” (Comerford, 2015b: 24) question, “How can we be ready for our future?” is posed for the membership to consider (IAHIP, personal communication to members, July 8, 2016: 1; bold type added). I will assume that the Chair and the Governing Body of IAHIP have a vision of ‘our future’. I would very much appreciate if the vision and architecture of change for our future were shared with us, the membership. Who will benefit from it – the clients, we the membership, and / or the IAHIP organisation? In what ways will all three stakeholders benefit?

The context for my final questions stems from the ICP Representatives’ Report for the July Newsletter (IAHIP, personal communication to members, July 8, 2016). In this particular report it was announced, “EAP has been accepted as a full member of CEPLIS which is The European Council of the Liberal Professions…” (9). I explored the CEPLIS website to learn that ‘liberal’ is defined in an organisational or structural sense but not philosophically, “Liberal professions, are… those practised on the basis of relevant professional qualifications in a personal, responsible and professionally independent capacity by those providing intellectual and conceptual services in the interest of the client and the public”(CEPLIS, 2016a). Furthermore, part of CEPLIS’ mission statement reads as follows, “CEPLIS acts independently of all political, linguistic, philosophical and ethnic considerations” (CEPLIS, 2016b; bold type added).

Against the background of the latter CEPLIS statement particularly, Dr. Coleen Jones’ motion has even greater significance for me:“That IAHIP reaffirm, that in an age increasingly dominated by specialism and technique, IAHIP’s understanding of humanistic and integrative psychotherapy remains fundamentally generic” (Comerford, 2016a: 63).

It is my belief that it would be important for the membership to explore in depth this motion, especially the meanings we, the members, bring to the terms ‘specialism’ and ‘technique’ and ‘fundamentally generic’. As a start, would it be possible for each regional group to discuss this motion? Could a representative or two meet with other representatives of all the other regional groups to share and discuss the consequent deliberations? Can these conversations then be collated to form a documented record of the voice(s) of the membership and about the membership’s own vision(s) of our future? Would the Chair and the Governing Body be willing to support and possibly actively promote such conversations among the membership? There is no command or demand in this broad suggestion. It is an open invitation to the Chair, the Governing Body and membership of IAHIP. I believe this process of engagement can be meaningful. It will assist to achieve the clarification and possibly the implicit assurance being sought in the motion, on IAHIP’s understanding of humanistic and integrative psychotherapy remaining fundamentally generic. In other words, I personally wonder, will IAHIP remain faithful to its humanistic philosophy and values as we are ‘contemplating change’?

I raise the above wonderings and questions so as not to arrive at conclusions about our future, or worse, being oracular about it. I want to avoid making assumptions and in order to do so I am seeking clarification from the Chair, the Governing Body of IAHIP and the membership. My intention in writing this ‘Open Letter’ is to further promote transparency in our own professional, relational space as we engage in any potential discussions about our future, and in a spirit of readiness and collaboration amongst the membership of our professional association. It is also an effort to make explicit “…the more implicit dynamics of our organisation” (IAHIP, personal communication to members, July 8, 2016: 2) as we contemplate change.

Kind regards,

Pat Comerford.

I want to express my sincere gratitude to colleagues in the Southern Region Group of IAHIP for their feedback on earlier drafts of this ‘Open Letter’, while taking sole and full responsibility for its contents.

Pat Comerford is a humanistic psychotherapist working in private practice in psychotherapy and supervision in Cork.

Comerford, P. (2016a). Humanistic psychotherapists, car mechanics, Shakespeare and the DSM-5. Inside Out, 79, 60-70.

Comerford, P. (2015b). A Humanistic approach to spirituality: Inclusivity. Inside Out, 77, 19-29.

Comerford, P. (2015c). Emotion in the ‘here-and-now’. Inside Out, 75, 37-48. European Council of the Liberal Professions/ CEPLIS (2016a). Accessed 29 July 2016 from http://www.ceplis.org

European Council of the Liberal Professions/ CEPLIS (2016b). Accessed 29 July 2016 from www.ceplis.org/en/about.php

Irish Association for Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy (2016). Journal ethos. Inside Out, 79, 4.

Law, S. (2011). Humanism: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.