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Our Personal Selves: the therapist as the instrument of therapy
By Fiona Halse

Previous to this I have been one of those PACAWA members who let invitations for articles pass them by. This time I felt drawn by the subject matter: The Personhood of the Therapist. It is something I feel interested in, even passionate about. I have had a fairly committed journey of personal growth for two decades prior to my psychotherapy career, throughout my training and since beginning work in the field. Nevertheless as I struggle to be the therapist I aspire to be it seems to be my personal self - old habits of response and reaction - that most often trips me up and gets in the way of an ideally supportive environment for the clients‚€™ healing process.

During my training in Hakomi Integrative Psychotherapy I read a quote from the Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa that spoke to me deeply and remains something of a touchstone. ‚€œThe basic work of health professionals in general, and of psychotherapists in particular, is to become full human beings and to inspire full human beingness in other people who feel starved about their lives.‚€�

Ron Kurtz, a founder of Hakomi, said ‚€œthe main work of the therapist is to be the right context for‚€¶the healing process to emerge.‚€� In referring to the above quote he added: ‚€œA full human being is authentic. They have self-knowledge, and are transparent about themselves and their relationships. They show they have trust in themselves and in life. They are warm. They participate in relationship at all levels. And they have a quality of wakefulness. That is, they are able to be open to a wide range of experiences, and are able to stay focused and concentrate when needed.‚€�

An extensive task! For me this meeting of our personal/spiritual path to awareness and wholeness with the path of becoming an effective therapist is both the attraction and the difficulty of the work. I feel blessed to have work that invites me into ever increasing self awareness and loving kindness. Yet the challenge and demand of it can be daunting.

Marilyn Morgan wrote something regarding Hakomi psychotherapy that I think applies to all schools and methods. ‚€œThe personhood of the therapist is vital to the success of the method‚€¶The therapeutic process is dependent upon the personal attributes of the therapist, which allows them to live the principles in the therapy, enables effective use of skills, and the establishment of a safe, attuned therapeutic alliance.‚€� I include in these attributes a capacity to inhibit those impulses which do not serve this client in this moment.

Compassionate and skilled psychotherapists, teachers and writers have inspired me on my personal and professional journeys. Yet in this personal reflection piece I lean also into the spiritual teachings that speak to me on this dual path and include a couple more such quotes regarding wholeness and acceptance:

‚€œHe who has the courage to take the healing light of self-acceptance into each and every hidden corner of his psyche will be free of all conflict and suffering. Nothing more is needed, nothing less will suffice.‚€� - Sw Ajay

‚€œTotal acceptance is the key‚€¶ the moment you accept something, a transformation has started in your being because now there is no conflict. You are not two. In acceptance you have become one, you have become a unity.‚€� - Osho.

Amy Mindell gives a process work definition of compassion that speaks of something similar. Compassion is ‚€œnurturing, caring for, and attending to those parts of ourselves that we like and identify with while attending equally to and appreciating those parts that we do not like, that we disavow and that are far from our identity. Further, compassion involves helping all of these parts to unfold and reveal their essential nature and meaning.‚€�

We might well ask ourselves what sort of training environments and collegial bodies will foster acceptance and compassion in ourselves. Certainly trainings with fully human and accepting teachers and role models who inspire us by their example are a good beginning; and then professional bodies within which there is an environment of emotional safety and kindness so our messy bits, struggles and failures don‚€™t have to be hidden. This genuine openness can ironically be hindered by our desire to present ourselves as competent professionals.

After a while doing the work of psychotherapy, seeing our clients across the room, it becomes very clear that they are missing this complete self acceptance. They want to ‚€œget rid of‚€� the parts they don‚€™t like in themselves. This experience of seeing-in-the-other provides us with an ongoing mirror and a challenge to ourselves on our shared journey to full human beingness. Our own work is never finished.

Though several studies into what determines effective therapy have shown us that the personal qualities of the therapist ‚€“ the instrument of the work ‚€“ matter more than any particular technique, method or theoretical background, this aspect still seems rather neglected in training and professional literature. Perhaps this is because becoming genuinely accepting, non-judgmental, compassionate and fully aware is not something we can easily achieve no matter how much we‚€™d like to be there. It is not easily taught. It is a developmental process that takes time.

Only to the extent that I can be with and welcome all of myself-- the messy, painful, distressing and un-integrated pieces ‚€“ will I be able to truly welcome them in my clients. Only to the extent that I can trust and support the natural and gradual healing process as it occurs without pushing to ‚€œfix‚€� something, driven by my own agenda of what‚€™s acceptable, will I really be present for the client. Yet, thankfully, to the extent I can be aware of and accepting of my own limitations I believe I can be a good enough therapist. In bringing acceptance to our very human imperfection we can have faith in ourselves.

Fiona Halse is a psychotherapist in private practice in White Gum Valley.

 

 

References:

  • Taylor-Newman, N. (1995) Full Human-Beingness; a talk with Ron Kurtz in Psychotherapy Australia Vol. 1, No 3 1995.
  • Mahoney, M. (1991) Human Change Processes. New York: Basic Books.
  • Mindell, A. (1995) Metaskills, The Spiritual Art of Therapy. Tempe, USA: New Falcon Publications.
  • Morgan, M. (2005) Hakomi Psychotherapy and the Narrative in PACAWANews, August 2005.
  • Osho (2002) Everyday Osho. Gloucester: Fair Winds Press.
  • Welwood, J. (1983) Chodrun Trungpa in Awakening The Heart; East/West Approaches to Psychotherapy and the Healing Relationship. Boulder: Shambhala Publications.