To me, the basic premise is that people are good. All our negativity and destructiveness, needs to be understood in terms of compensatory processes emanating from our insecurity, which is, in turn, caused by trauma in its widest sense. Many of our difficulties revolve around our inner conflict, which is the direct result of this trauma which happens when pain, hurt, fear or distress that was too much to bear is repressed. This process splits the self into parts and we are then cursed to live in conflict ourselves. Depression, anxiety, anger, addictions and compulsions of all sorts, relationship difficulties, all flow from this basic insecurity of the self, created by trauma.
Accepting this view means that psychotherapy is about helping people to slowly heal the splits in the self and undo the compensatory insecurities caused by trauma. It is about helping people to find their freedom through supporting greater awareness and understanding of how things are along with taking increasing self-responsibility. Therapy works with nature’s healing force to help us become who we really are underneath our insecurity. It is about being supported to become the fullest, most integrated and appropriately mature expression of ourselves we can be. The aim implicit in this is to live increasingly consciously in the here and now and in tune with our deepest nature.
I think the question of what our “deepest nature” is, is the biggest question in psychotherapy (as well as philosophy and politics). I see this as being about Consciousness, Love and Energy and how they are the basic constituents of the ‘here and now’ and our ‘being’. The ‘here and now’ is a transpersonal space full of Goodness and mystery, full of the essence of life itself, full of our connectedness to every aspect of our environment. It is this that provides our sense of meaning.
It is the wounds and deficits from the lack of love that cause our problems and disconnectedness from life and this shows how it is Love that is one of our deepest needs, and how Love underpins all human life, and indeed, somehow, the whole universe.
Our therapy journey is through symptom relief, to self-understanding, to self-responsibility, to realising that “What’s in the Way, is the Way” (Mary O’Malley), i.e. to being able to consciously use our difficulties to grow and heal in the face of each bit that crops up. Using our difficulties to grow rather than avoiding or tolerating them. This process of slowly healing through ever greater self-awareness enables us to find compassion for ourselves and others, to love ourselves. It is towards freeing ourselves from fear and eventually towards letting our hearts, mind and body open sufficiently, to enable us to let go of our ego. Then, even in the face of death there is no fear, only Love and Consciousness and Energy and we can let go into death fully reconciled.
Our journey is a psycho-spiritual-energetic one. To begin with we need to give a lot of attention to our ‘psychology’ to understand ourselves and our motivations. Our wounds and insecurity are often very deep and with many layers, taking potentially decades to get to the bottom of. For this work we need to allow our hearts to crack open to the depth of our hurt, we need to understand ourselves and the world, and we need the support that comes from developing our consciousness of our body, in whatever form it takes, e.g. meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, etc.
Perhaps most of all we need to practice the process of making what we are subject to (i.e. what we are experiencing emotionally), into an object of study and inquiry. We can only do this by attending to our here and now experience, our ‘what is’. Later in our journey, we can focus more directly on the spiritual dimension of increasingly letting ourselves go deeply into the ‘here and now’. The closer we live to this present moment, with our awareness, our open heart and our embodied energy, the more ‘alive’ and connected to life we are, and the more we can trust and let go of anxiety or whatever it is that keeps us avoiding, now. Connecting deeply with the here and now brings presence and spontaneity and trust and meaning.
We often try for all this prematurely, before we have really understood our psychology and its motivations. Then, it is our ego trying to obtain something for itself that is beyond it. This is usually part of an avoidance strategy referred to as “spiritual bypassing”, i.e. using a spiritual connection to try and avoid the difficulty of facing trauma of some sort. It then becomes something else that needs to be seen and let go of.
Through attention and care the three elements of head, heart and body can open and connect to each other, we need this to develop the self-support that we need to face and transcend the depth of our insecurity. We need both ‘push’ (as in working on our compulsiveness) as well as ‘pull’ (opening to the deep wish for, and resonance with, Life, Love and Consciousness within us). We need to “to do”, i.e. to work hard, as well as “not do”, i.e. to be and let go.
At what point psychotherapy ceases to be relevant on this journey is a piece of string question. Obviously, it is usually more needed at the beginning, but when it ends is unknown. As Kornfield made clear (in “After the Ecstasy the Laundry”), even those whose are lucky enough to have found great spiritual freedom can still need psychological help. Wilber (in “The Religion of Tomorrow”) describes how there are potential pitfalls all the way along our journey, until we reach full enlightenment.
This shows what Wilber and many others argue, that our journey is “psycho-spiritual” one, i.e. that our developmental processes is about both “growing up” and “waking up” and that these cannot be separated without huge loss. If we limit psychotherapy to helping people “grow up” we are missing a whole aspect of human experience. Just as when spiritual traditions focus solely on “waking up” they also lose an essential aspect of human nature. We need both, each supports the other in a full development. Attention on “waking up” to the here and now allows us to see and face our phenomenology reality, healing our trauma and understanding ourselves enables us to live closer to the here and now. As ever, we need both ‘doing’ and ‘being’.
This is my argument for Psychotherapy needing to embrace both “growing up” and “waking up”, which means that as therapists we need to be practicing both ourselves.
Jim Robinson October 2017