by Sarah Krzeczunowicz (Kay)
There are several strands that have prompted me to write this article. The first strand is the fact that I am back in college as a master’s student while continuing to work part-time as a psychotherapist and supervisor. My return to university came out of a desire for a change and a need to gain new perspectives. This return to academic life has allowed me time to stand back and reflect on my work as a psychotherapist and to consider where the profession is going.
The second strand that drove me to my computer was the jolt I experienced when I attended a workshop in Milltown in September 2002. The workshop was organised by the Rutland Centre, and the guest speaker was Ann Wilson Shaef, author of When Society Becomes an Addict and many other books on addiction and spirituality. Wilson Shaef started her workshop by introducing herself as a ‘recovering psychotherapist’, a description that had some particular resonance for me.
Briefly, Wilson Shaef’s contention is that Western society, including Ireland, is itself an addicted society and that we all play a part in this addictive process. This addiction is to the illusion of power, control and perfection as an escape from the painful journey of self-awareness and, ultimately, as an escape from an intimate relationship with oneself and with others. She pointed out the difference between the more obvious ingested, or substance addictions such as alcohol, nicotine, food, etc., and the more subtle yet more insidious process addictions such as work, sex, money, religion, shopping, gambling and relationships. Wilson Shaef personally believes in a twelve-step programme as a way to recovery, substituting the word sobriety, which is relevant to addictions of substance, with the word spirituality which is more appropriate to the addictions of process.
Addictions in Psychotherapy
Anne Wilson Shaef had a special warning for psychotherapists, having been one herself for many years. She suggested that the addictions in psychotherapy were to power and control and to the desire to save and rescue. These addictions lead the creation of hierarchies, to arrogance, and to feelings of superiority and self-righteousness. Clearly, the potential in psychotherapy to abuse power is particularly dangerous, considering the privacy, confidentiality and vulnerability of the work. In the light of these considerations, Wilson Shaef no longer works one-to-one but only in groups. She feels that therapists need to work in a more transparent and open environment, to engage in a participatory role with clients, and to be less of an observer and interpreter.
Wilson Shaef asked the psychotherapists present if they had on-going support groups in which to process their own addictions. There was a silent shaking of heads in response to this question and much discussion of this point during the coffee break. She concluded her workshop by challenging us to wake up to our own addictions and our addictive society. She suggested we consider a number of questions in relation to these matters: How addictive is this society apart from the more obvious and now much talked about addiction to alcohol? To what extent do addictive processes permeate our culture? How many of our leaders are driven by their unacknowledged process addictions and how might this affect their decision-making? To what extent are our mainstream structures and professional bodies controlled by addictive processes?
The Dominant Culture
By applying for statutory registration, the profession of psychotherapy is seeking to become part of the dominant culture. In order to become mainstream and acceptable as a profession in a Western consumer patriarchal society, we are going to have to compromise and comply with the existing structural systems. This has particular relevance when we have to consider our position vis-a-vis statutory registration. It raises the question of how we ought to position ourselves as a profession in a culture which at present is driven by greed, has little or no respect for the environment, and which puts profit before people.
We are faced with a paradoxical position which raises moral and ethical issues. On the one hand, as part of the mainstream and dominant culture we have an opportunity to effect changes. On the other hand, we will have to comply with the inequalities that are endemic in this society, inequalities such as a two-tier health system, for instance. While we gain something, we may also lose something. Can we hold the paradox?
The Deconstruction of the Patriarchal Paradigm
Our society at present is going through a massive deconstruction and fragmentation. This is both exciting and frightening and certainly challenging. We are witnessing the cracks and crumbling of patriarchal structures which have dominated Western cultures for nearly two thousand years. Patriarchy has forged our institutions, our governments, our market place, our family life and most of all our thinking. Left-brained, linear, dualistic thinking is still valued in our education system over right-brained imagining, although this is slowly changing. The patriarchal paradigm is a hierarchical model based on power and control, which encourages competition and rewards a limited notion of success. This inevitably pits people against each other in striving for power and recognition and creates a climate of oppression for anyone who does not comply with the norms and rules of the system. Those at the top are in constant fear of being ousted. Those in the middle envy those at the top and strive to get there. They are also contemptuous of those below as this makes them feel superior. Those at the bottom feel powerless and angry. They are marginalised in their sense of hopelessness and frequently attack each other, since they have no access to any other power.
Internalised Oppression – The Consequence of Patriarchy¹
This oppression becomes internalised over time. The effects of this oppression include feelings of low self-esteem, shame, low expectations, an acceptance of stereotypes, and either an overly compliant or overly rebellious attitude towards authority. Internalised oppression leads to feelings of mistrust and begrudgery, to feelings of exclusion and isolation, and to a tolerance of destructive relationships, and a lack of initiative. People no longer trust their own intelligence. Most significantly, internalised oppression fosters feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness leading to short-term gratification and addictions. All the symptoms named above are manifest in this society, in our professional bodies, and present themselves both in ourselves and in our clients.
The most recently exposed example of an addiction to power, hedged around with all the trappings of denial, avoidance, arrogance and self- righteousness, is the clerical hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. But the church is not alone in holding on to hierarchical structures and operating out of a power paradigm. Most businesses and professional bodies still operate in this authoritarian way as it is the only paradigm our society knows and understands. Professional bodies in our society for the most part are hierarchically structured. Our internalised stereotyping also causes us to expect governing bodies to lead, to take control and to over-function, while those who are not part of management or governing structure often under- function and as a consequence, feel powerless, marginalised and aggrieved.
What about the psychotherapy profession?
Management structures within the psychotherapy profession are no different from other professional bodies. Because of the nature of the work that we do, we need to be especially aware of the effects of the power paradigm. As a relatively new profession, I would hope we are not yet so deeply entrenched in a hierarchical system that we could not consider other ways of re-structuring our professional organisations. In our present circumstances we are in a state of tension, in a state of conflicting feelings. On the one hand we have a sense of confidence at having necessary structures in place and operating as a professional body. On the other hand we are still on the margins. We are not yet recognised as a mainstream profession. You will hear the word “counsellor” and “psychologist” used by the media frequently, but very rarely is the word “therapist” or ”psychotherapist” used. We are still viewed by many with suspicion. We are viewed as alternative, as unscientific, and possibly even as dangerous. These are all familiar patriarchal responses to anything new which challenges the established system. Psychotherapists are out there on the margins with the feminists (emotional, hysterical and militant!) and with those who espouse spirituality (wacky, new age and ungrounded). As a consequence we also carry the internalised feelings of isolation, exclusion, and a sense of not being able to change things. Most of all the effort to stay on the path uses up much of our creative energy.
Where else might this internalised oppression operate?
Most of our clinical psychology derives from a patriarchal background (Freud, Jung, Adler, Kohut, Lacan, Bowlby) and this continues to be transmitted to students of psychotherapy. The same goes for developmental psychology (structuralist and functionalist theories) where the models of life cycle and experience are, for the most part, developed by Western educated, middle class white males. Even the female theorists build on the existing models of, say, Piaget, Erikson, Kohlberg etc². People who do not fit into life cycle norms are still classified and labeled according to psychiatric or medical models. While I am not saying that all of this is without value, I am suggesting that there is so much more, so much that is missing.
The Lost Narratives
Where, for instance, are the developmental theories that underpin the experiences of women? And I do not mean just middle class women. Where is the narrative for single mothers, for poor women, for gay women? Where are the voices of gay men, of children, of immigrants? Where are the voices of those with no formal education, the voices of the homeless, of people in archaic mental institutions? Where are the voices of the children of prisoners of refugees, of people institutionalised by the State? All these are the untold stories of those on the margins of the dominant culture. These are People who have a story but who have never voiced it and may even have a difficulty in articulating that story.
Power and Control: The Shadow
Jung said the shadow side of love was not hate but power. The abuse of power has been called the shadow side of psychotherapy. When power is in operation you will experience control and not love. Psychotherapy is open to the abuse of power and control just like any other profession operating in a patriarchal system. We must be careful not to delude ourselves into thinking we might be any different or better than other institutions.
I have often received the comment – “You have a lot of power in your job - particularly in a one-to-one situation”. How do I trust that power, monitor that power? I believe that when we work in isolation the more difficult it is to remain grounded around power. Isolation encourages fear and secrecy. We all need the supports and challenges of a non-punitive environment to explore our issues around power, vulnerability and powerlessness. If we are to be caring and compassionate to others, we need to start with ourselves.
Can we be caring and compassionate to ourselves in a hierarchical system? Can we be caring and compassionate to our clients if we operate from a power paradigm? I would suggest that we can only be compassionate and caring if we operate out of a paradigm that puts compassion at its centre. If we operate from a worn out hierarchical system of power then the cycle of control and resentment will be repeated and all our creative energy will go into maintaining the system instead of moving out and reaching other people.
Psychotherapy started in the margins of society. There is a value in being on the edge. At the same time becoming part of the mainstream means having some power and affecting changes. We need to hold both these truths as we think about what statutory registration might mean for the future of our profession.
Sarah Krzeczunowicz (Kay) is a Gestalt therapist and is currently completing her MA in Pastoral Leadership.
Guggenbuhl C. (1971) Adolf Power in the Helping Professions. USA: Spring Publications.
Ruth. S. ( 1998) ‘Psychology of Liberation & The Peace Process’. Annual Conference of PSI. in ‘Psychology of Oppression: A Review of Literature‘. (Working: An Interdisciplinary Journal (NCIR), Vol. I, Nov. 1, Autumn 1990).
Sugarman, L. (2001) Life-Span Development: Frameworks, Accounts and Strategies. UK- Psychology Press Ltd.
Wilson Shaef, A. (1987) When Society Becomes an Addict. San Franciseo: Harper & Row.
¹ Ruth, S. (1998) ‘Psychology of Liberation & The Peace Process’, Annual Conference of PSI. in ‘Psychology of Oppression: A Review of Literature‘. (Working: An Interdisciplinary Journal (NCIR), Vol. I, Nov. I, Autumn 1990).
² Exceptions include Melanie Klein, Karen Horney, Carol Gilligan and Gail Sheehy.