by Elizabeth Mullins
This short article describes the creation of an archive linked to Eckhart House, a centre for therapy and reflective self-awareness, which operated in Dublin from the early 1980s to 2008. The article documents how some of the psychotherapists who worked in the House have chosen to remember its history. The following paragraphs describe my experience assisting the Eckhart House community with this process of remembering; the process was imbued with a sense of hope, a welcome disposition in the current times.
Eckhart House, Institute for Psychosynthesis and Transpersonal Theory, was founded by Fr. Miceál O’Regan, a Dominican friar, in Dublin in 1980. Located initially in a house on Pembroke Road and for a longer period on Clyde Road, the Institute ceased operations in December 2008. During the 28 years of its existence, the courses and therapeutic work that took place in Eckhart House were guided by a unique combination of spirituality and psychotherapy; in particular by the common ground shared by the great spiritual traditions, especially the Christian tradition, and by the theory of psychosynthesis. The richness of this encounter, reflective initially of the intellectual and spiritual journey of Miceál O’Regan, the Institute’s founder, was given life and sustenance by the community that grew up around the House. This community, comprising therapists from religious and lay backgrounds, continued the Institute’s work after Miceál’s death in September 1997.
One strand of the activities of the Eckhart House community in the period since the closure of the House has been to create a small archive documenting its history. When I was asked to provide professional advice on this process in the autumn of 2014, some steps had already been taken. The most significant of these was linked to the appraisal of the records – what the group had decided should form the archive itself. As with many appraisal decisions, this process was determined by several factors: what could be preserved with due regard to issues of confidentiality; the material that had been at hand during the closure period; and what had been judged worthy to be kept. The final criterion was the most interesting one. It was clear from speaking to the group that they had not intended the archive to create a complete record of the administration of the House and of all its activities. Instead, their work was motivated by the desire to preserve material that could assist future educators and therapists who were interested in incorporating elements of psychosynthesis into their practice. The material preserved in the archive richly documents the ways in which Assagioli’s theory formed the basis for the courses that took place at the Institute. In different ways, each of these courses sought to lead their participants to a pathway of meditative presence, which could support and enhance their experience of everyday life.
Having clarified broadly the nature of the archive, the focus of the work then moved to its description and arrangement. This step entails describing and organising the material and reflecting these processes in a catalogue that can be used by researchers, work that is usually carried out by an archivist after a collection is acquired by a repository. In the case of the Eckhart House Archive, the group wished to describe their own records; my role was to provide a template for description and some guidance relating to this process and to the collection’s arrangement. The group were clear about the story which the records would tell; the catalogue begins with material linked to the life of the founder and the vision and methodology which led to the establishment of the House. It then moves to sections relating to the different courses - from initial introductions to psychosynthesis and meditation to the content of the two year-long programmes. The collection finally documents the range of shorter courses devised by team members and partially covers the content of the four-year programme to train therapists that operated for a time at the Institute.
While the overall story was clear, some of the most interesting and enjoyable discussions we had related to how to describe the individual records – documents and files – which made up the collection. It was difficult to identify specific creators for much of the material because of the collaborative way in which the courses had developed. Records relating to the various programmes are thus attributed to the Eckhart House Team and the reasons for this are explained in the catalogue’s introduction. This introduction also includes information about another interesting dynamic of the archiving work which emerged – namely, that some of the group were glossing the original records with explanatory notes. This added another layer of narrative to the catalogue we were creating, that needed to be acknowledged both in the introduction and in the way that these files were described individually.
The catalogue and archive have recently been deposited in the Dominican Sisters’ Archive in Cabra, representing the completion of the group’s work. As it stands, the Eckhart House Archive represents one of the few collections currently available in Ireland that provides insight into the history and development of this strand of psychotherapy in the country. On a more personal level, the archive bears witness to the value attached by those involved in the Institute to preserving its memory, a process which testifies to its impact and significance in the lives of the individuals who were part of its community. While these values relate to the past, the main reason for its preservation lies in the potential it holds for the future, as the basis for the development of courses and therapeutic work drawing on psychosynthesis and related theories.
The Eckhart House Archive is available for consultation by appointment at the Dominican Sisters’ Archive by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The Eckhart House Archive Group comprised Anna Carroll, Vincent MacNamara, Josephine Newman, Joan O’Donovan, Maureen O’Reilly and Mary Owens.
Elizabeth Mullins is a lecturer in the School of History, University College Dublin.