Helen Davis is a Director of the Minster Centre, a Psychotherapy Training Institute in London and incorporates Reichian and Transpersonal perspectives among others in her work.
Ger: You are over here, Helen, running a sexuality weekend as part of the Creative Counselling Centre Psychotherapy Training course. Could you say a bit about the sort of weekend you do?
HELEN: I don’t have a set schedule. I go in and find out how people are, what they might like to do , and go from there. I think my major focus would be adult sexuality. It’s a progressive process, the adult’s closest experience of intimacy.
Ger: What do you mean by ‘progressive’ there?
HELEN: Progressive rather than regressive. Unfortunately most relationships are to a greater or lesser extent regressive. Sexuality in particular seems to bring out the regressive aspects of relationships, the regression being to those unsatisfied or damaged early experiences. The reason why sexuality seems to be such a painful thing is that the adult re-enacts that early material – the very primal material that is the basic ground out of which sexuality flowers. It is the original experience of touch, nourishment, contact or the absence of same that matters.
Ger: Are you saying that meeting infantile needs in sexuality is not progressive?
Helen: Yes. It is not progressive. It is regressive. What we do is to use sex to fulfil infantile needs rather than to expand into a greater adult state. It can be a way of expanding the human potential as well. It’s not simply a mechanical sexual act. It’s the root of one’s whole libidinal state, which is how alive some one can be at any particular time. A great many relationships seem to be fraught with the conflict between infantile needs being met and adult sexuali ty, and of course adult sexuality never fulfills infantile needs – the only thing to do is to confront the original infantile states and define what happened and see how the early experience is being repeated by the adult.
GER: How do you see sex education?
HELEN: Sex education is important. What normally passes for sex education is a kind of diagram of physiology, and how a penis can penetrate a vagina which is about procreation but has not got a lot to do with the sexuality in its entirety. I would say that a great deal more education is required to under stand the whole process of sexuality because people are very uneducated and it is kept mysterious when in fact it isn’t very mysterious at all.
GER: So how do you see the importance of sexuality in the training of psy chotherapists?
HELEN: I don’t see sexuality as being different from any other part of adult life. The way it is experienced is as relevant as any issues with food, work, or anything else. If it is not functioning to the degree it could be at a basic level, it is no different from any other state of distress, and if psychotherapists have not worked through their own process sexually as well as in all other areas, they are not going to be of much use to anyone else.
GER: Turning to another topic – how do you see the whole movement towards professionalisation in psychotherapy in Europe?
HELEN: For Europe as a whole I think it’s a very good thing because psychotherapy has always been a closed shop. In Europe psychotherapy is only officially practised by qualified doctors, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists - and they are basically untrained in the art or science of psychotherapy. This movement will create a profession in which it is recognised as something completely different from medicine and psychology, a profession in its own right which requires a very different type of training that can only be the province of psychotherapists. I’m talking specifically here about psychotherapy and not psychoanalysis.
GER: What is your attitude towards psychotherapy training being a post- graduate level activity?
HELEN: I believe that it is a post-graduate profession. There is a clause insert ed which states that a trainee must have a previous degree or equivalent. That needs to be read broadly. There are reasons why it should be a post-graduate training, and that has more to do with age and life experience than it has to do with whether you have a previous qualification or not. What they are trying to ensure, which I agree with, is that people should enter the process of training for psychotherapy at a later point where they have more life experience behind them, rather than when they have just been turned out from school. It is inappropriate for a person at that age level to enter into the field of psychotherapy. Previous qualifications ensure mental and cognitive abilities.
GER: When you talk of psychotherapy becoming a profession in its own right, do you see any difference between psychotherapy and counselling?
HELEN: There is a difference between psychotherapy and counselling but only in its extremes. It is a curious situation. I don’t know what goes on in the States, but in Europe they do not have a basic counselling profession. In Britain they do and it is a very old one. In Britain, it is considered a very good basis for entering into training in psychotherapy and is in fact the best basis for entering training.
GER: When you say it is the extremes where you see the difference, what do you mean?
HELEN: It would be more appropriate for someone to undergo counselling at a time of crisis and crisis counselling is much more structured to fulfil the needs of someone in crisis and with a specific problem to deal with than psy chotherapy is. Generally speaking, psychotherapy is focused on a process rather than a product – a whole life process. Both are required at different times. In that respect I see a difference. It is not as though a psychotherapist is not going to be dealing with a client at a counselling level at various times during the process of psychotherapy, or vice versa.
Ger: What differences would you see between the training of a counsellor and a psychotherapist?
HELEN: There are some differences. We do expect psychotherapists and counsellors to have the same education. No-one has defined the differences precisely. I think we will reach a point where the distinctions will be abandoned, so they will just be seen as different ways of relating to the client. The points of likeness are many and obvious, but the main points of difference would be in the time frame: counselling as short term. Counselling has a very specific structure with goals to be met. In psychotherapy the goals are changing constantly. I am referring to psychotherapy and counselling training as practised by the Minster Centre.
GER: You are aware of the move over recent years towards psychotherapy in tegration. What kind of response does that draw from you?
Helen: I do not find it very interesting to spend much time concerning myself with how you would combine the work of a Gestaltist with an Analyst or a Behaviourist with someone who practices Transactional Analysis or whatever aspect of psychotherapy – and a lot of the organisations that have sprung up have been concerned with combining theoretical or philosophical perspectives or skills, which I suppose are interesting in one way, but I see as irrelevant actually. I believe in an all-round education. I don’t believe in children going to school and learning only how to write, they should learn everything they can in every possible area, for as long as possible. In the same way, I am concerned that there is not enough learning that comes from natu ral life experience. Essentially what the human being is doing naturally is trying to integrate themselves in the world and integrate their experiences in themselves, and so therapy should be a reflection, and all the methods and philosophies should be a reflection of what the human being needs in the world and is trying to integrate in themselves. So psychotherapy is the study of disintegration and the study of ambivalence and of impossible situations things which we will never have, and how we cope with that. For me, the methods used are irrelevant because every method has a different time and place when it can be appropriate in an individual’s life. They are all of use, so to make comparisons is stupid, but to know them all well is good.
GER: So you see integration as within the person?
HELEN: Yes. So in training the therapist has to go through the process of their own integration, which means disintegration and reintegration, as much as they can handle.
Ger: When you say they need to go through disintegration and then reintegration, could you explain that?
HELEN: Life does not give everyone what they need, and if it did we would have a very dull situation anyway as there would be no motivation to func tion, because it is basically the trials of life that are the impetus to reach and fulfil our potential. I don’t say all the trials of life will do this – some are so harsh that they destroy aspects of the individual and much healing is required and may never be fully achieved. In this case learning to survive, cope and manage is probably good enough. It is arrogant for any therapist to assume that they can fulfil human needs. As often as not, they can’t, and that’s another thing that has to be lived with and is part of learning to cope with the ambivalence.
GER: That is almost a theme, as we’ve spoken in relation to sexuality and now, in that you wouldn’t see the psychotherapist’s task as providing for inner needs, infantile needs?
HELEN: No, never; it is never to do that, to meet inner, infantile needs, because it is not possible. Only the child’s original parent could have provided for that child’s infantile needs and no-one else is ever going to replace that. That’s part of the disintegration and ambivalence that we are constantly having to handle. What we have to do is find our own resources from within and assume we have these resources. I think the therapist is there to offer presence and a degree of staying power to stay with the client in their exposure of those unmet needs, and provide some kind of staying with, while they recognise the fact that they actually survived and do have resources of their own which can fill that particular gap. The experience itself offers one some thing. It has potential, the experience of loss or damage. Actually I see the psychotherapist who attempts to supply the meeting of the client’s needs as being dishonest and behaving omnipotently, because they are kidding themselves and the client into believing they can do something they actually cannot do. It is usually a projection of unmet needs in the therapist which they are acting out. I don’t believe in re-parenting – I’ve seen a lot of programmes of reparenting, mainly in the 70s where for some years, people went on residential workshops and did regression work and were completely and perfectly reparented – supposedly – but it never worked.
GER: So would you see that as collusion?
Helen: It is a collusion which does the client and the therapist no good. When the therapist and client can recognise their own depression, their own problem of unsatisfied needs, then there’s movement.
GER: Are you saying that for you, motivation comes mainly out of unsatisfied need?
Helen: Yes, and Winnicott would say the same thing, I think. I think he’s quite right from what I have seen. I think it depends on the degree of damage: in other words, normally unsatisfied need pushes us to meet the need. What they have undoubtedly proved is that the ideal situation/ideal parenting seems to produce unmotivated and very selfish people who don’t go out and offer anything in the world. Those people who have had “good enough” parenting are more likely to achieve. Those people who are so dam aged might provide a great deal in this world but will always suffer at some level, but therapy can help them put it into realms with which they can cope and use their experience to help them.