Cure?


Video and trasncript of a talk given on Wednesday 1 May 2013, 8pm 


AMD at Cure Talk


I thought I would never need psychotherapy.  People around me were going for therapy and I thought ‘I don’t need that, it’s not for me because I’m alright.’  Well, here I am thirty years later a practicing psychotherapist, in on-going personal therapy and still a member of my original men’s therapy group in London which I joined nearly 10 years ago.  

Several crunch points in my life led me to seek help through psychotherapy.  And it has transformed my life.  I have sat in many psychotherapy groups.  I have seen and been seen by others.  I have learned that I am normal and can cast away the stigma of going into psychotherapy, although I know that stigma is a big issue for many people.  Interestingly, the word stigma means ‘a mark or sign of disease’.  Mental health is still considered to be something shameful.   And yet, actually we are all wounded in some way or another.  It is not if we are wounded, but how deeply we are wounded.  To take away our wounds would be to make us less than human.  

Clients come to me for a variety of reasons, usually with a particular problem or issue.  It soon becomes apparent that the problem is a symptom of something else trying to come to expression in the client.   I want to introduce a fundamental concept.  As human beings I believe we are fundamentally healthy when we have an uninterrupted flow of experience.  This means we can recognise our emerging needs and satisfy them.  When a need or desire emerges, either physical, emotional, or cognitive a state of unbalance in the organism is created until that need is met.  Thus there is always a striving for balance, always something that needs correcting in us.   Imagine an aircraft flying to a destination.  The aircraft’s computers and pilot are constantly adjusting the flight course compensating for environmental factors.  In ourselves, this constant adjusting, corrective action,  constant re-creation, is what results in our growth, physical, emotional and spiritual.  Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Psychotherapy, said that neurosis is a growth disorder.  When we suffer with symptoms of one thing or another, this is pointing to the fact that somewhere there is an interruption to growth.  And this interruption starts with the inability to be fully aware of our experience, to shun feeling our experience and not adjusting and responding to it appropriately.  In a similar way we live between creation and destruction.  In every moment of our waking life, we are always dying and reconstructing ourselves.  We sleep at night, wake up in the morning.  We reconstruct ourselves from where we left off the previous day.  Consciousness itself is based on brain cell death, between anabolic and catabolic processes.  Through trauma or shock, our organism may need support in making that reconstruction or in dealing with all the things not addressed from previous interruptions to growth.  In other words we have ‘unfinished business’ to deal with.

Essentially ‘Cure’ in psychotherapy comes about through relationships.  Relationships to self, to others, to experience, to feelings, to thoughts, to impulses, to past, to future, to present, to dreams and to the environment.   In fact, the whole field is about relationships.  It has been shown that it is not what I do, but how I am that makes a difference to my clients.  Research proves that it is the relationship that heals through psychotherapy.  It is the relationship that heals.  The original meaning of cure means care, devotion and attention, to observe and attend to the client.    And the meaning of ‘observe’ is to watch out for, to keep and honour, to serve.  In the therapeutic relationship, there is an honouring on many levels.  Psychologist Carl Roger’s held that there were three core conditions to honour:  Unconditional positive regard, congruence and empathy.  Through the relationship, healing occurs.  Furthermore, I see my work as remaining purely curious to you.  The word ‘curious’ is closely related to the word ‘cure’ and means to care.  By being curious, I remain open to what is being expressed through you. I am interested in what you are trying to actualise, to express or to satisfy and ‘what’ and ‘how’ you experience that struggle, not ‘why‘ not looking for causes.  If there is any goal in my work with you, it is not change but awareness.  For only through awareness is change possible.  Healing cannot be a goal, neither can cure.  Because as soon as I am intent on healing or curing, it potentially gets in the way of my seeing you as you are.  I look out for you and what is being revealed through your suffering.  I look out for what you are trying to express. I observe what is coming into existence or struggling for existence.  What I am interested in is you, as a phenomenon.  Your symptom is a result of an obstruction to your expression, the natural cycle of organismic needs and aspirations, of soul wish-fulfilments and desires and longings.  When the human organism is healthy it is responding fluidly and appropriately to it’s needs and desires.  

As a psychotherapist, I do not takeaway from you what hurts.  I help you to find the meaning in it.  I give it back to you in such a way that shows its necessity and value to you.  The cure then becomes a shift of awareness, a re-framing of experience.  The Austrian Psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Victor Frankl said that meaning in life is not given. It has to be found by each of us.  We have to discover our own meaning for our lives.  That can be painful.  It means becoming response-able.  Able to respond appropriately to what is happening here and now.  Not what we would like to be happening or regret is not happening, or what we expect to happen, or what we think should happen.  We knowwhen life is challenging us when we find ourselves saying ‘this should not be happening to me’ or ‘why is this happening to me?’.  Experiencing what is, rather than what could be or what was, is painful.  

Neither I nor anyone else can know what you experience, and how you feel.  The existential fact that ultimately we are alone can be terrifying.  A basic human need is for contact with other human beings.  We want to know someone is there for us.  Human contact is the source of our greatest joy and our most intense pain.  Contact with another is incompatible with staying the same.  Through contact, change occurs without effort.  That contact can be found in the therapeutic relationship.  I use the metaphor of a journey.  I go on a journey with you.  I help you to navigate the byways of your world.  You may traverse the same landscape several times the same way.  Or you may take another path one day and see the same place differently, from another direction.  I encourage you to slow down, smell the flowers, smell the manure too.  I encourage you to see more of your journey.  To be vigilant.  To experience it more.  The poet Wallace Stevens said:  ‘The way through the world is more difficult to find than the way beyond it’.  

The way through your world is found when you have full contact with it in all it’s joys and sorrows.  Then you are truly alive to your own experience and your relationship to yourself, to your life, to others and your environment.  The journey that is growth can be painful, but ultimately it is also liberating.  Through our therapeutic relationship the context and safety is there for you to take your journey.

© Matt Davies 2013