Socially and culturally we interact with other people, each day in our working and private lives we seek to express ourselves to be heard and to see and hear others. What and how we communicate varies from person to person. We each have our own special interpretation of how things are. The society we were born into and the unique cultural attitudes of our carers has significant bearing on the views we have. Sometimes we experience emotional problems that cause us pain and left unexpressed this can lead to physiological illnesses. In an ‘Introduction to psychotherapy’ Dennis Brown and Jonathan Pedder state that about a third of all patients who go to their family doctor have primarily emotional problems.
Psychotherapy is essentially a method of healing the psyche. No matter how well intentioned our caregivers may have been there will have been many times when as a baby and child growing up that our needs will not have been met1. How we responded and how these unmet needs affected us also depends on a multitude of other factors, ranging from genetic to cultural. In Psychotherapy we assist people to get in touch with the feelings associated with those unmet needs, which may be interfering with current relationships. This involves listening to and talking with a client, with the aim of helping them understand and resolve their predicament2, the goal is self-empowerment.
Practices today have been strongly influenced by Freud’s early work, although later studies also look to more ancient traditions and cultures. There are many different schools of psychotherapy using different methods and called by different names. These have been shaped by the studies of later doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, psychoanalysts, anthropologists and others. Many studies have addressed religious attitudes, cultural, scientific and historical influences on why we behave as we do. All the different approaches and techniques have the same goal in mind – to help people to improve their lives by understanding themselves better3
Why is it necessary to understand ourselves better? What is the relevance of Psychotherapy?
Many psychiatrists, psychotherapists, psychologists and writers of books on techniques for therapy are exploring these questions. Many look at our society as it is and examine what goes on in our lives. Much of what we hear about on news programmes and read about in newspapers is designed to stimulate an emotional experience, it can even be regarded as sensationalised – that ‘s what sells newspapers. Whole groups, organisations, cultures and individuals can experience strong emotions in response to hearing and reading other people’s arguments, propaganda and directives. Each day in our interactions and watching TV soaps we are emotionally stimulated, which can stir up our own past experiences. Sometimes our responses can cause us problems if we act out what we are feeling without filtering it to find out what it means for us. For a healthier society we need to learn the skills of emotional expression, communication and effective handling and understanding of emotional experiences
Margot Sunderland, Director of the Institute for Arts in Therapy and Education, London, says in the opening of her book, ‘Drawing on the Emotions’4: ‘The focus in our schools is on education for future employment, on competence in surviving in a technological society, which has meant that pupils are increasingly being left emotionally illiterate. Education in our system places emphasis on external reality. What is happening ‘outside’ ourselves, with merit for high grades on what information we have absorbed? Very little attention is given to ‘internal’ reality, the world of thoughts and feelings. Yet, it is also clearly evident that our young pupils are dealing with huge emotional conflict as divorce rates soar and families divide. Many of these children find it difficult if not impossible to concentrate and have no tuition in how to handle this confusion. Parents are experiencing stress in the workplace and this is reflected back into the family environment which is perhaps why we are looking for alternative perspectives, some kind of antidote to the anxiety and unhappiness which is reflected back at us through the media.’
In his book, ‘Emotional Intelligence’5 Daniel Goleman argues that emotional literacy is as important as academic intelligence, that we are not whole, without being literate in both fields. He applies his research to how our corporations operate, how managers interact with each other and their employees. It is vital that we are able to operate well socially. To do this we need the ability to be independent and interdependent in our private and working lives6 We seek to be both autonomous and intimate7, to maintain a balance in order to function well, effectively and happily as members of the human race. Another writer, Josephine Klein in her book ‘Our need for others and its roots in infancy’, shows by her research how we develop physiologically and how our view of the world is shaped in infancy by our genes, by our caregivers and by our society. So how can we learn to live harmoniously with each other when we have been shaped by so many different factors that seem so different from the next person.
If we have problems with relationships, work, our self- esteem, depression and life generally, psychotherapy is one way of learning about more about ourselves. It uses the knowledge and understanding of research and training and puts into practice the process of healing the hurt and damage we may have experienced. The young baby and growing child make decisions about themselves in relation to others, sometimes those decisions may be painful. How painful must it be for the infant who has had inadequate and abusive handling, they have made decisions about themselves in response to this. Counselling and Psychotherapy provide a confidential, safe and supportive environment to facilitate individuals to re-make those early decisions and to become free of old messages and to move into a more healthy and nurturing understanding of themselves.
Psychotherapy will be as varied as the individuals providing it. Individual associations have ethics committees and bodies such as the PCSR (Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility), UKCP and BAC, which exist to address challenging and discriminatory practices at all levels. Still young, as a profession, psychotherapy is not without its discontents8, and this is healthy. It is an important element of any profession that there is opportunity for open debate about methods of practice9. This provides opportunity for growth and refinement and emphasises the importance of monitoring of methods and regular supervision within the professional bodies. There are ongoing studies in techniques in the effectiveness of psychotherapy, and because of the difficulty in assessing outcome the debates continue and develop10.
As we move into a new century and we travel more widely, experience different cultures and seek to integrate with other cultures we also need skills to assist us with these moves. For many of us psychotherapy can provide us with these skills. In the future as we help our children and future generations become more emotionally literate, we can encompass other attitudes, societies and cultures with understanding and respect. All schools of psychotherapy have an ethos of respect and protection for individuals and pursuit of excellence. Psychotherapy continues to grow and develop to modify and expand with developing insight and greater experience.
1 Michael Kahn, Between Therapist and Client, pp54 Freeman
Introduction to Psychotherapy, Dennis Brown and Jonathan Pedder, Prologue Routledge 1997,
Dennis Brown and Jonathan Pedder Psychotherapy and introduction and outline of psychodynamic principles and practice. pp3, Routledge, 1991
Sunderland, Margot, & Engleheart Philip, Draw on your emotions, pp 1, Winslow Press Ltd, 1997
Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, pp 44, Bloomsbury
Stephen R Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, pp 54, Simon & Schuster
Muriel James, Self Reparenting, Volume of Selected Articles, TA Journal, August 1991
Windy Dryden and Colin Feltham, Psychotherapy and its Discontents, pp 114, Open University Press
Jeffry Masson, Against Therapy, Introduction, Harpur Collins
Dennis Brown and Jonathan Pedder, Introduction to Psychotherapy, pp prologue, Routledge 1997
Our needs for others and it’s roots in Infancy, Josephine Klein, Routledge, 1987
Transactional Analysis Psychotherapy, an Integrated Approach, Petruska Clarkson, Routledge, 1992
Between Therapist and Client, Michael Kahn, Freeman 1997
Vital Lies and Simple Truths, Daniel Goleman, Bloomsbury, 1997
Developing Transactional Analysis, Ian Stewart, 1996, Sage
Scripts People Live, Claude Steiner, Grove Weidenfield, 1974
What do you say after Hello? Eric Berne, Corgi 1997
Families and how to survive them, Cleese and Skinner, Methuen, 1993