The Two Goals of Therapy
As far as I can see, there are at least two distinctly different ways of understanding psychological healing/therapy. (Good therapy will normally employ at least some elements of each.)
The first, which we can characterise as Conventional Therapy, seeks to make a client an effective member of society, an effective citizen.
It is concerned with the relationships that exist between a client and the various elements that make up his world. Authority is assigned to the local social structures, and it is the citizens duty to accommodate himself to these, or to use existing metastructures to alter them.
It is essentially about power, about learning to be effective, in a socially acceptable fashion.
The second approach, sometimes irrespective of the demands of society, seeks to orient a client towards some kind of inner self, some inner truth, however defined or conceived or experienced.
Frequently, but not always, this inner truth is conceived of as God, directly and internally experienced.
Authority lies ultimately with the individual insofar as he comes to know and be guided by or identify with this inner self.
(It has been remarked that this mode is essentially subversive and tolerable to (tribal) society only in times of prosperity.)
An Efficient Separate Being
The first approach and I would emphasise that I paint with a broad brush has behind it an assumption that each of us is a separate and incomplete being who depends on his own efforts, or on such alliances as he can form, for his livelihood, and for getting his needs met i.e., for his completeness.
The end goal of counselling or healing is a client who has developed skills that enable him to form a wide range of partnerships and alliances, who has developed bargaining and negotiating skills, who can plan and organise his actions to achieve specific goals, who can keep himself safe from the hostile activities of others seeking their own gain, and so on. The primary issues tend to be political and social.
God, if He is a feature of this model of therapy, tends to be seen as a separate entity with infinite power, who can deliver prosperity or disaster in this life and later according to whether He is propitiated appropriately or not.
The ability to deal with God effectively on this basis is seen as simply another life skill, normally arising out of one's activity within a socially approved religious group which orders and moderates one's relationship with God and enforces a moral code with spiritual consequences conceived as an eternal afterlife in heaven or hell. (The moral codes so observed and enforced vary considerably from group to group, but tend to perpetuate existing social and power structures)
(Alternatively, one's relationship with God is seen as ones own business and none of the therapists.)
How to Write a Successful "How to" Book...
This world view is behind the enormous success of books with titles such as How to Win Friends and Influence People and How to Keep your Husband Fascinated in You in fact, anything starting with How to.. It is also behind most advertisements which claim ultimately that their product will assist you in your endless quest for "security", (or, if you are sophisticated, "quality".)
Life in this world view is skill-based. It is also relationship based. Excommunication, social or religious, is the ultimate indication of failure. Loneliness and rejection and alienation are among the most painful experiences for those who are tribally oriented.
In many ways, with the best of intentions, our whole educational system is set up to reinforce this world view, and nothing more. (Remember, education is to be secular.)
All Things Work Together for Good....
The second type of counselling/therapy has underlying it the assumption that while we may appear to be separate beings, on the evidence of our physical senses, nevertheless it is possible to achieve a state of being in which this separateness is known to be an illusion.
In this state of being we are conscious of our oneness with God and with all creation. We "know God", (though some approaches to this state of consciousness use terms other than "God".)
Much has been written about this state of consciousness over the years. When we achieve it something happens which we could not have rationally predicted. Our lives begin to work more effectively, and in ways that we do not always understand.
Statements such as
All things work together for good for them that love God, or
Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you,
capture its essence as Jesus laid it out.
Jung wrote about what he termed synchronicity.
This inner awareness has been a goal for spiritual seekers throughout history, and constitutes the great mystical tradition within most religions. (I think it was Joel Goldsmith who remarked that a Muslim mystic and a Christian mystic had much more in common with each other than they had with the orthodox members of their own faith.)
The issues addressed here are primarily spiritual. The goal of therapy/counselling of this second type is a client who can as appropriate access this consciousness of oneness with God.
- Not because this might be by far the most efficient way of ensuring an adequate supply of this worlds goods -
- Not so that ones ailments, or those of ones family, can be healed -
- Not so that ones relationships with others may be better-
- Not so that we can find a better job -
These tend to happen, but in themselves they are power - control - effectiveness issues. These are the goals of the separate being, they are not the main issue for the mystic.
The one goal from this standpoint, is to know God and to discover Him within. As far as goals go, there is often not a lot of choice involved once the realisation dawns, at first dim, and then growing, of ones ultimate oneness with God.
The focus in therapy of this kind is consciousness rather than skill.
I think my own bodywork, and its associated counselling stands firmly in this tradition.
We are predisposed to separateness
Nearly all of us are brought up as if the measurable world was the beginning and end of our existence.
Heaven and Hell may still be said to await us as a result of the moral quality of that life, but they are "somewhere else".
God is just another external phenomenon we have to deal with, like the boss at work but with higher stakes involved.
Finally, we are predisposed to see ourselves as material and God as spirit and therefore separate, from God and from one another and from the rest of creation.
And while our consciousness remains at this level, God does in fact remain a separate being. We have had only the reports of a relatively few other people that He can be reached directly, and these reports are not necessarily borne out in our own experience.
We know ourselves as body, as emotions, and to some extent as mind. We must come to know ourselves as soul and spirit.
It is usually only when we accidentally tumble into a "spiritual" experience, and some quality of discernment is experienced, that we may begin searching in earnest for more of that experience, or for an "explanation" of it. (If we don't run!) For some of us at Centrepoint, that first experience came through Berts or other therapy, for others, through drugs, for others, through meditation practices, for others, through an intense sexual or sensual experience.
But seldom has that been a deliberate or intentional process. Many others have been through the same experiences as us without any particular spiritual awakening.
[What was important at Centrepoint was that it was a more easily shared experience, with a variety of maps available. Despite a tendency by Bert to emphasise the uniqueness of his particular path, this was not in the long term a tenable position.]
If, as I said, we do not run or close down, we typically begin paying attention to the accounts of others who have repeated the experience. We may look for a teacher who will help us. We may attempt frantically to reproduce the original experience. Many will change radically or even leave behind their everyday lives in order to accommodate the new quest.
The irony is that most often this spiritual quest is undertaken, certainly at first, in the same fashion as we approach other "how to" disciplines:
"There surely must be skills to learn, concepts to understand and then we can master whatever it is that we need to know or do. There needs to be a course available at a technical institute that we can follow and thereby achieve this state."
(Theology, by the way, does not seem to answer this purpose.)
It is not skill-based.
We have first of all to unlearn the conventional skills of learning. It is not for nothing that one of the central features of the mystical tradition has been the notion of Grace. It is absolutely typical of those who attain this state that they experience it as a gift, not as the result of any personal labours, not as a well-earned reward, nor even as something that could have been earned or learned.
So How Do I Get There?
The first answer is another couple of questions:
Even the grasp one has of the goal is at first very, very tenuous.
Even holding it as a goal is not altogether helpful. Most of our understanding has been forged in the context of acquiring power and effectiveness and skills, or achieving goals. It is not something we can acquire in this way.
We have few ready tools or receptacles for conceiving what it is that we want.
Certain disciplines or practises do seem to place one in the way of possible spiritual experience, but do not guarantee it.
Bert at Centrepoint seemed to me to build the experience by focussing people on their intimate relationships with one another, where power/control/ownership trips of any kind were seen more easily to be pollutants - though not always easily abandoned.
And often, in the love that seemed to spring forth where power ceased to operate, came the first inklings of the vision.
[Centrepoint Community was founded by people who associated their new insights with the therapy of Bert Potter, and they set up an intentional community in which they could share their experience more readily, and take the experience from there to a larger society.
[Bert's subsequent excesses, his criminal convictions, and his refusal to acknowledge wrongdoing, have for the most part obscured the original message that for many of us turned our lives around.]
Typically, masters and teachers and pupils have been few and scattered in the past.
In the 1960s the widespread use of marijuana, LSD and hallucinogenic mushrooms and cacti increased enormously the number of people whose spiritual consciousness was, at least for a short period, awakened. It was not long before the link was made with the eastern religions who seemed to have mapped this state more comprehensively, and over the last thirty years awareness of the new "spirituality" has spread widely in the west.
My own experience with drugs and observation of others using them in this way suggests that their value is limited. Their value initially is that they alter the nature of our conscious perception so as to make an initial surrendered "spiritual" experience possible. This experience is very similar to that described by Evelyn Underhill as "seeing an object for its own sake, and not simply in its relation to us and our personal needs and history. This she set down as the beginning phase of mystical awareness.
But to attempt thereafter to use drugs as a tool to force the gate is just as futile as any other kind of attempt to force the gate and gain spirituality on our own terms. It is not something we master; it is something we surrender to. The very attempt to bring some other, be it person or object or skill or knowledge, under conscious control, to act on some other, perpetuates our experience of being separate from that other, and militates against an experience of union. We cannot operate on a world and unite with it simultaneously.
The Human Potential Movement
This term loosely describes the group of experimenters who focussed on this "new" territory of the spirit in the late sixties, the seventies and thereafter. Methods varied widely, from deep tissue massage, through movement and dance, through encounter, primal therapy, chemicals, sensory deprivation, trance, through a huge range of electronic and musical aids to enlightenment, as well as to more traditional methods such as meditation and fasting.
The goal was much the same, although sometimes it was conceived of in psychological terms, sometimes in spiritual terms.
And all too frequently in commercial terms. Not since Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple courtyard has so much money been made out of religion and spirituality as we have seen in the New Age.
In territory which might be thought to be its special province, the Christian Church lagged well behind in mapping for the masses this "new" area of experience. Christian mysticism has been well documented, but not in any form that is readily available, even to regular churchgoers. (At least, this was the case for me. Today, the internet has changed this considerably - if you know what you are looking for.)
The popular maps for the west were drawn, however, (with all the enthusiasm and variety that one can see in early maps of New Zealand), by a host of variously qualified and skilled explorers and entrepreneurs. And they need, I think, to be used with similar caution. (The maps on this website not excepted.)
Fritz Perls and Gestalt Therapy
In my first years in the territory of the human potential movement at Centrepoint, I simply followed instructions from those already on the path. As I began to follow my interest in bodywork, especially Touch for Health, I felt the need to refine the maps I was using. There was obviously much more going on than was being described in John Thies Green Book. Or in Bert's Saturday talks.
And my particular skills and limitations did not lend themselves to our Centrepoint style of relationship-based therapy.
My first attempts to understand more clearly what was happening to my clients led me to Fritz Perls and his theory of homeostasis. (Here again, I emphasise the broadness of the brush I use.) The body, he said, is an organism which exists inside certain limits. When these limits are approached or exceeded, a chemical shift occurs in the body which is experienced as a feeling, and the activities prompted by this feeling are directed towards re-establishing homeostasis.
Or at least this would be true in the best of all possible worlds.
When we perceive ourselves to be threatened, we switch on an "over-ride" mechanism and present need satisfaction is postponed until safety is reached. (This is the same mechanism that allows a cat or dog that has been injured to reach the furthest and smallest corner beneath the house where it will be "safe" while it heals, or dies.
Once we reach safety, we can take time out for re-creation, returning our consciousness to its homeostatic form.
But humans rarely do reach a safe place. In our present world, re-creation has been re-invented as recreation or entertainment. As competitive sport, active or passive, as confrontational drama, film and television, as advertising that stresses our insufficiency, our recreation typically provides a constant supply of messages that reinforce a continuous low-grade fight-flight mode of consciousness.
So we remain stuck in fight-flight mode for long periods of time, cut off from any accurate awareness of our selves and of our real needs. In this mode, too, we behave as social animals, responsive to leadership and external suggestion, easily swayed by social pressure, by needing to belong.
A form of easily manipulated group-aligned consciousness seems to take over. Politicians long ago learned to base their power on their "ability" to lead us through some perceived - or manufactured - threat.
There is a certain security in this group consciousness; after a time, to leave it behind and return to our inner selves often requires a leap of faith.
But the homeostatic self is ultimately what we express as individuals. To suppress it requires that we use antagonist muscles to counter its dictates. We do this subconsciously for the most part as a function of our training and education and the social signals around us.
Where needs remain unmet long term, we often develop characteristic body postures shaped by the specific pattern of muscular tension needed for effective suppression.
While Perls tended to interpret human experience in terms of chemical shifts, and seemed to me to be limited in other ways as well, he provided a beginning which led me eventually into the larger mystical/spiritual tradition.
Homeostasis and spiritual experience
Homeostatic awareness is an interim position on a larger scale of consciousness. In the fight - flight state, one is totally separate from one's surroundings. In the homeostatic state described by Perls, we begin a process of "relationship" with our surroundings. Perls speaks of foregrounding, a process by which anything related to our most immediate needs becomes, as it were, highlighted.
A further state, a closer relationship still with one's surroundings, is that addressed by the creative visualisation people and their look-alikes. In this state, using focussed will and desire to act on one's surroundings becomes possible. It is the realm of magic, and, I suspect, of conventional prayer, and in general, one that I choose to avoid or discourage. Beyond this is Buddhic or Christ-consciousness, in which we experience ourselves simultaneously as individuals and as one with creation.
I saw many of my clients as stuck in a low grade "fight/flight" mode which prevented their other needs from being experienced, let alone satisfied.
Their entire emotional range seemed to be confined within the adrenalin buzz of fight/flight and the boredom which replaced it as the adrenalin died away. Boredom is not the same as safety, and typically generates an urge to further action which secures a further adrenalin buzz. And then more boredom.
(I suspect, but have never had occasion to investigate any further, that many ADD and related problems reflect this situation, though in some way amplified so as to become a major concern. Adrenalin addiction.
My function is to help my clients to leave behind this state the one they typically arrived in and thus become aware of their other feelings, and the actions necessary to discharge these feelings.
They need no advice as such, just awareness, and their own inner wisdom for the most part can do the rest. My function as therapist is to support them in the transition from one state to another.
The Therapist, the Client and the Abyss
Now, if you ask somebody to take a longish step from point A to point B, he will normally be able to do it without hesitation. If the same step is requested over a thousand foot abyss, the response is likely to be very different. Over a 1 metre ditch, very little problem. Over a 3 metre trench, perhaps a little more.
The transition process just referred to is very much like this. Clients come in with their musculature reflecting their personal fight/flight stance, with their attention very much focussed outwards, very much on guard or defensive, and we ask them to abandon this position and turn their attention away from the "danger area", and inward to an inner self about which they may at first know very little - and trust even less.
There is a point in mid-stride where their defenses have been abandoned, and before they are aware of the extent of their own resources where they face the abyss. Sometimes a minor hesitation and then forward. Sometimes, the abyss seems so deep that one can almost smell the sulphur.
That is the key point where the therapists presence is vital as an adjunct to change. He stands with his feet planted firmly in the middle of the abyss, as firmly as ever those of Jesus crossed the water, and provides the hand over. He has somehow to pace the client perfectly so as to provide just the right support, without ever once believing in the reality of the abyss.
The Mystical Experience: The Garden of Eden
So far I have described two states:
- fight/flight state, where attention is directed outwards and issues tend to be about power and control; and
- a more centred creative condition, where attention is focussed inwardly.'
Paradoxically, this inward attention generates an awareness of ones surroundings that enables a very precise satisfaction of ones needs. As I remarked earlier, Fritz Perls called it "foregrounding", when that part of ones environment capable of answering ones immediate needs became in some way enhanced.
It is from this state that I am sometimes able to make the crossover into the mystical experience, a sense of oneness with God and with ones surroundings. (There are, of course, other states, and other crossover points)
Fight/flight has a characteristic physical component: the diaphragm locks, the abdominal muscles lock around it, the muscles of the pelvic and shoulder girdles tighten to provide a secure base for the legs and arms to do their stuff, either running or fighting. Breathing becomes shallow and high in the chest. Other physiological changes take place.
Under continuous low-grade stress, the diaphragm constricts, ready to lock, and the shoulders and pelvis typically tighten somewhat, in readiness for action should it be necessary. Taken in conjunction with the muscular suppression of inappropriate emotions described above, this frequently results in chronic mild fatigue.
(With trunk movement limited, a much greater share of the load involved in activity tends to fall on the joints of the extremities. Shoulders and arms and wrists have to work that much harder if trunk movement is constrained, and are more likely to be injured or strained. The same applies to the legs and feet.)
Where Bert had focussed on personal relationships, in which fight/flight behaviour was an obvious pollutant, I experimented with bodywork designed to dismantle this physical component of fight/flight.
P-N-F stretches as taught by Frank Mahony in Hyperton-X seemed to offer the most promise in this regard. Trigger points, as described in the work of Janet Travell and David Simons, and in the work of Bonnie Prudden are another fruitful area for exploration.
The Keeper of the Space
But before this can happen, a client needs to feel safe. Even the most massive and protracted boredom and inactivity does not generate a feeling of safety, though it may stimulate risk-taking.
A client also needs to feel effective, potent in a creative rather than a controlling sense. Whats the point? is the least useful starting point, though it is frequently the prevailing one.
At first, the point is conceived of in terms of gaining greater control rather than greater creativity, and there is much to learn in distinguishing the two.
Control is a function of fight/flight: creative/generative power is a function of a safe environment.
If the therapist is able to create and preserve a state in which the need for control is minimised, there will be proportionally greater opportunities to experience creative potency. (In a fight/flight state, there is virtually no room for creativity. Necessity is not the mother of invention.)
Remember, we are talking about setting up for the client an experience he may be almost totally unfamiliar with. (And which, God help us, far too many therapists are totally unfamiliar with.) For a client to gain this familiarity, he needs plenty of opportunity to experience it, over and over again, with as little as possible to drag him back into fight/flight mode.
He needs to be able to focus inward, again and again, and he needs to learn how to translate what he finds there into activity that will express this inner being. He needs to become accustomed to, and comfortable with, the feelings of loving that he is likely to find there, so that ultimately he can move beyond into the mystical experience.
Later, when he is more skilled, he will learn in the presence of possible danger that fight/flight is not the only choice, nor is it always the most useful one. But to begin with, he needs a safe space to practice in. Providing this is ultimately the function of the therapist when he embarks with his client on any inner journey into the territory of the spirit.