Jim O’Donoghue talked with Tim Hannan
I think that people who are devastated by life’s circumstances and who cannot possibly work fully in a non-residenttal setting need residential psychotherapeutic and medication-free pastoral centres. Because they cannot work in non-residential settings they either remain in terrible psychological, spiritual and physical pain, creating havoc in relationships, or they go to the psychiatric services, where they are then, diagnosed with a psychiatric illness. In Ireland at the moment, 250,000 people are said to have ‘depression’ as though they had a mental illness. In fact, they are people who are devastated by life’s circumstances, passed down through the generations and through the current family. They spend years on medication, being maintained in illness, and their symptoms are kept at bay, but there is no healing intervention. What these people need is a psycho-spiritual accompaniment by carefully trained psychotherapists or accompanists, who would really accompany them on the journey of their present life and draw into their present adult (however small that adult is), the devastation of the past. Very often it is not possible to do that on a non-residential basis because it leads to huge turbulence and disturbance, both within the psyche and the body. There needs to be a place where they can work through this and integrate it into their current lives, so that they go out and form better relationships and fit better into community life.
In my work, I accompany such people at great depth and it seems to work very successfully. Some of them have been in and out of psychiatric hospitals and on medication for years, and got nowhere. In fact, what they were dealing with was some kind of psycho-spiritual emergence from the past, not with psychiatric illness.
Failure to Love
I see a huge improvement in the future if we can heal families, so children will grow up with less devastation and disturbance. If we can heal religious communities, there might be a chance that there will be some kind of spiritual leadership, so badly needed in our country and everywhere at the moment. The old structures don’t make sense any more. Spiritual growth can’t be institutionalised because it belongs to the unique call of each person. When people are psycho- spiritually healed, they love better and that’s at the core of all healing in society. If our politicians and our church people loved better, they wouldn’t be as corrupt as some of them seem to have been. If people could love better, so many of our children wouldn’t be on drugs, and so many of our young people wouldn’t be committing suicide, particularly our young men. Alfred Adler said that all difficulty is a failure to love and I identify with that really strongly. All difficulty in life at some stage is a failure to love.
There is absolutely no scientific proof that these so-called psychiatric syndromes are caused by some kind of chemical aberration. It may well be. It sounds like a reasonable explanation, as Ronnie Laing said, but there is no scientific evidence for it. It’s a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Because certain chemicals are fed into your system and maintain you in equilibrium, which is a form of social control, then we assume that the issue is bio-chemical. But we know, especially from transpersonal, transgenerational work, phylo-genetic work, that even where stuff did come down through the generations, it can be healed and the future lies there.
Differences Between Psychiatry and Psychotherapy
Some professors of psychiatry are trying to compare the outcomes of psychotherapy with the outcomes of organic psychiatry but, of course, they are two totally different approaches and deal with totally different things. The problem is that many people who need psychotherapeutic accompaniment end up in psychiatric clinics and have their symptoms modified. Their relationships in their family life, church life, sexual life and so on, continue to be as bad as ever, but they are held in equilibrium and some kind of social control. Therefore it is claimed that the outcomes from organic psychiatry are better than the outcomes from psychotherapy. I don’t blame psychiatrists because they are not trained in psychotherapy. They are trained academically in bio-chemistry and biology and in recognising symptoms, but they are not trained to know the uniqueness of the person. They are not trained to recognise transpersonal and transgenerational devastation and disaffection.
Of course, some psychiatrists have trained in psychotherapy. We had a psychotherapy day hospital in Mount Pleasant in Ranelagh in Dublin but in the cutbacks in 1988, that was closed. That was an excellent place where wonderful work was done in healing communities. We are also very fortunate in that one of our Clinical Professors of Psychiatry for many years was also a psychotherapist, Professor Ivor Browne, but like many prophets he wasn’t always accepted in his own country. There are now other psychiatrists who have gone to the trouble of training in psychotherapy, and we have been very fortunate, in our three centres in Dundalk and in Gardiner Street in Dublin and here in Kedron, in being able to work with a number of those.
Centres for Healing
I like the word ‘centre’. Some people have set up organisations for therapy and called them ‘institutes’ and so on, but the word ‘centre’ speaks of core, which is the word for heart. It speaks of the centre of the human person and it speaks of the centre of a community. As well as speaking of the heart, it speaks of the hearth around which people gather, so centres like this can be an energetic healing presence within the community in which they exist. I think that the very presence of a centre like this has an outreach through its commitment and through its way of seeing things, that is healing in itself. At Kedron, people come to us from the community for healing, for psycho- spiritual accompaniment and for pastoral care. We have a Bereavement Group here, which is run by three specially trained bereavement counsellors for people where there has been a suicide or other loss in the family, and that reaches out into the community. We belong to the Worldwide Community of Christian Meditation, and we have a Meditation Group which is at the core of our work here. So centres like this can be centres of pastoral care for the community.
Recently I did a workshop with my colleague, Sister Catherine Whyte, at St. Michael’s Family Centre in Sligo, on the whole problem of seeing oneself as worthless. There were 28 people at that workshop. People are coming in large numbers to that Centre for various kinds of growthful and healing activities, some for counselling, some for educational programmes, some for workshops, some for meditation, some for self-understanding programmes like the enneagram, and this is having a wonderful effect in the community. The programmes we have here at Kedron include groups and individual psycho-spiritual accompaniment, that people attend from the community. In fact a number of local doctors, both in Edenderry and in the surrounding counties, are sending people here for help. So there is a recognition among doctors that psychotherapy, psycho-spiritual accompaniment, and healing though the process of an interior journey have an important place in rebuilding a more loving society.
Like every other profession, psychotherapists are now looking at the body of theoretical and practical knowledge that is available, and at the methodologies that are developing, and asking how can we bring those together so that psychotherapists will get the best possible training. In the European Association for Psychotherapy, we now have the bones of a seven-year training programme, but I do think that we need to be more specific in that training. For instance, in my opinion, to be a psychotherapist, in addition to experience of the various psychotherapeutic modalities, you need to have a training in anthropology to understand human nature; you need to have a training in the great thought processes of the millennia that are past. We need to learn from our ancestors, so there is a need for training in philosophy. There is a need for training too in the understanding of literature, because literature is the communication of human experience in writing and a training in literature is of immense value. There is a need too for a training in spirituality. There are many ancient spiritual systems in the world that have contributed enormously to understanding the personal and the transpersonal and the transcendent sense that is in us all. There is the need also of course for understanding the body, with its bio-chemical and anatomic and biological systems.
Experience Within Myself
Teilhard de Chardin said that my body is the very universality of things so somewhere and in some sense I contain all of the universe within me. I have a long journey to make to be an integrated human being. I dare not sit with anyone else on that journey unless I know it as an experience within myself. [This is another place where psychiatrists don’t work, they don’t work with themselves. They have a hugely high rate of suicide as a profession on that account] There is a need therefore, for the psychotherapist to be constantly making that journey into the unknown interior regions of self.
Some psychotherapy courses insist on personal psychotherapy for the trainees while they are in training. I think it is an ethical standard that all psychotherapists must be in therapy themselves all the time. I have been in therapy, I suppose, since about 1961 and I don’t know whether it is doing me any good, but that’s not the real question. I have learnt to explore the depths of myself, personally and transpersonally and to sense the transcendent and that sense of mystery that is within us all. That is a necessary part of training and of ongoing practice as well. Of course we are not infallible, we don’t always see the wood for the trees. It is really helpful if we come together in small groups and individually to review our work constantly with each other, and to have a kind of pastoral review of that work so that it will be fruitful. So those things need to be knitted into the whole development of psychotherapy.
Healing Families and Systems
Some therapy lays so much emphasis on individual work that great damage is done to families and systems. I think this sometimes happens particularly where there is work being done with sexual abuse and rape, where families aren’t taken into that work and therefore relationships, already damaged by the sexual abuse, aren’t healed. Perhaps someone was sexually abused in childhood, and grew up and married and then the marital relationship broke down: if that person goes away and works with their stuff and gets deeply into the traumatic stress of it, very often the marriage partner and the children are left out in the cold. They can be totally puzzled by what is going on and angry and uncertain and being told by the person who is in therapy to wait. We have to find ways of bringing the whole family together. Couples must be brought together, there must be family work, there must be individual work and it’s all part of the therapeutic work. They are not separate.
We talk about Gestalt groups and Tavistock groups and Right Relationship groups, but as a group therapist I tend to be eclectic and generic in the way I work. I get in there and mix it, as they say. It’s very hard, when I come to refer people to groups, to find groups that I am happy with. Here at Kedron, we have a number of groups and we hope to develop more both for after-care for our residents and for people in the local community. They come here and they do a one-or-two-week programme or a thirteen-week programme, or they can have a break then and do another thirteen week programme. We find that works very well and generally the feedback we get is excellent. We have a huge number of enquiries from people who want to come here. But we are very conscious of the fact that, when people leave the kind of hothouse of therapeutic pastoral residential programmes and systems, they go back out into ordinary life. There is a whole readjustment process and therefore we have an ethical responsibility to provide after-care.
There is an international dimension to our work that presents us with some difficulties. It is hard to find therapists in Africa, and we have had people from Africa on every programme; but funnily enough we have succeeded so far, by tearing our hair out, doing the research on this. In Britain, we have a tremendous service through the Clinical Theology Association with which we are associated. They have throughout Britain a series of consultants and trained pastoral carers and pastoral counsellors who can continue that kind of work for us. In Ireland of course, we have therapists almost all over the country to whom we can refer people in the knowledge that they will the continue the same kind of work that we have been doing with clients and that’s a great help. We also hope to get more groups going here, and we are providing days for people who were residents with us to check back in for a day, meet their therapist, have a group session, have a meal together, have an individual meeting with one of the directors and look at how their planning is going. We are always working and developing other systems to help people to go back into their communities, into their families, into their workplaces, fruitfully rather than damagingly, for themselves and others.
Can I make one final comment that I would like to be included? I am really sad that Inside Out is coming to an end. I have watched it grow and I’ve watched an enormous amount of voluntary work put into producing something that has helped to professionalise psycho-spiritual accompaniment or psychotherapy in this country. I know that the present editorial team feel that it has now fulfilled its purpose and I am a real believer that when something has fulfilled its purpose, it’s time to bring closure to it. I am delighted there is a book coming out. but I hope the journal will be replaced with something or there is going to be a big lacuna there. It’s a case for grief. It’s a bereavement that we are going to suffer in its closure.
Jim O’Donoghue was formerly the Director of the Dundalk and Dublin Counselling and Therapy Centres and is currently the Director of the Kedron Counselling and Therapy Centre in Edenderry.]