In Greek mythology Chiron became a leader and wise elder amongst the centaurs, half man, half horse. Although renowned for his skills and art as a healer and physician, which made him the patron saint of these vocations, he was unable to treat an incurable wound in his own knee which he had suffered through an arrow. He was, therefore, known as the 'wounded healer'.
In 1977 astronomers found a large asteroid which was given the name Chiron, and which in astrology is associated with healing. Astrologers see this 'new planet' as heralding the possibility of deeper self-knowledge and through this a way of addressing the suffering of our modern times.
The Chiron (pronounced [shee-ron]) Centre was founded with the aim of teaching and practising therapy in a way that encourages and allows therapists to stay connected with their own wounds and vulnerability as the basis for understanding and meeting both the pain and the potential of those they work with.
The archetype of the 'wounded healer' also has implications for the power dynamic in therapy and offers a position which complements the stereotype commonly held of the therapist as near-omniscent and all-powerful. The benign face of this image is the wise guide and good parent, but this is necessarily shadowed by the potential for manipulation, exploitation and abuse.
The therapist as 'wounded healer' stays connected to their own pain and is not as easily seduced by inflation or the client's need or conviction that the therapist be 'sorted out', 'together', or beyond pain and conflict.
Whatever the client's perception or projection, in the inner experience of the therapeutic position the therapist does not necessarily have all the power, and is not necessarily right and knows it all. The following quote from Dr. Suttie reveals the other side and is just as true:
"The therapist's role is not the technical one of doctor nor even the godlike one of perfect parent. It is much more that of sacrificial victim upon whom all hates, anxieties and distrust are worked out so that he is the mediator, the catalyte - whereby the separated psyche is re-integrated in its society."
To us, the image of Chiron, the centaur, symbolises the healing of the split between body and mind, between the instinctual and spiritual. Considering that the root of the word 'healing' means 'making whole', the image of Chiron implies a 'holistic' approach which sees the person as a 'whole', and therefore cannot - in the way it addresses the psyche - afford to neglect certain aspects which are essential parts of this whole. The integration of the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social/relational aspects of our being is at the heart of Chiron work.
An accessible description of our approach, especially in terms of the body in psychotherapy, is presented in the next section 'About our Work'. A more recent summary can be found in our Training Booklet, whereas a fairly lengthy and technical version can be found in our Training Prospectus.
The following little booklet, written more than 20 years ago (in 1986), gives you a non-technical introduction to our work and our approach to psychotherapy and the body.
You can download this booklet in printable pdf-format by clicking here.
It is not enough to assume that the body is the mortal shell, which carries us through life, and that all we have to do is look after it, keep it fit, feed it well, and do a few things here and there to make it look nicer. This leads to a kind of "caring" similar to that which many of us experienced in our families: happiness meant to be washed well, fed sufficiently and dressed in an appealing manner. What was missing then was a profound and detailed interest in the intricate world of our thoughts and feelings, and in the very specific and unique totality of our individual story, with all its particular chapters of being three, eight, twelve or sixteen. People did not seem to bother to do what was needed the most: that is to really enter with emotional curiosity into the unexplored labyrinth of our inner world.
In a similar way, and most probably as a consequence of this neglect, we've lost contact with our bodies. We have literally left them and started to live in our heads. This moving upward is a step with really terrifying consequences: it leaves us without the shelter, comfort and security of being in our own "house", so that we need to build a pseudo-security, which makes us behave in a rigid and superior way, or leaves us feeling inferior and frequently doubting the rightness of our thoughts and actions. In this sense, the long-term goal pursued in our therapy is to help people to come back into their bodies, which will then offer all the advantages of "being at home".
Maintaining a physical awareness of oneself, when with others, is quite difficult but also rewarding. Usually, even people who have done a lot of physical awareness exercises have trouble keeping their focus on both sides of the relationship: to give attention to the other person and at the same time to stay in conscious contact with one's own physical self seems to be an almost impossible task. That is why we consider the relationship between client and therapist, particularly as it is reflected in the body, a vital part of our work.
The body is a barometer of our ability to relate. Our desires as well as learned inhibitions are both registered as a feeling of pressure, for instance "to get it out", and at the same time, as a tight inhibiting feeling in the stomach. Usually these conflicts are not recognised as two opposing forces, but are taken as "the way things are", experienced as a feeling of heaviness, pressure, stress, and so on. They are mostly taken as normal, as long as they do not lead to physical or emotional disturbances. Yet every illness has its origin in the opposition of these two forces.
Experiencing them as separate qualities - for example as a seemingly insatiable or "dirty" hunger for forbidden paradises versus a "stiff upper lip" morality - allows the person to recognise their different sources, and then to keep from each what feels right and leads to adulthood. "Coming home" into our body is a long process and needs a lot of time and attention. "Owning" our body, as it has been called, is a procedure similar to the one we might undergo with the place we live in: we might gradually recognise that the style, atmosphere, space, furniture, comfort, etc. reflect quite precisely the state of our inner development. But the conflict between coming out and holding back does not happen only in dramatic situations, it happens pretty constantly throughout the whole day. There is a regulator in us - you could call him the judge or the manager - who organises and criticises most of our business. He always decides between warm (open) and cold (closed). And cold is every activity which is not directed by the heart. When we sit in the bus, there are several ways of being there; it is the same when we enter a shop or talk to somebody in the street. Most of the time, the judge organises coldness (judging from the demands of the situation) and then often judges us afterwards for having been too cold. All of this is a very subtle procedure which happens on several layers of consciousness, and of which the mind may or may not be aware.
But the body always is. The inner relationship between the judge and the one who reacts to him consumes an enormous amount of energy. Each time we enter a situation which the judge has considered to be such and such, a specific (familiar) pattern of free flowing or blocked energy reorganises itself in the body and goes for either more openness or more closedness. Most social friendliness, for instance, is - in physical terms - governed by a relatively closed system and is therefore relatively exhausting, instead of self-nurturing.
The solution is not, though, to abolish the judge, but to learn how to use him. He is not necessarily the "bad guy" - he is part of a fine balance that was originally established for survival, and his protectiveness (closedness) is beneficial to the whole system as long as the other part in us cannot survive in the open without being damaged. There is also an essential difference between clearly saying "no" to someone (which on the physical level can imply warmth and openness) and withdrawing from the other person behind a "kind" mask (which - as a two-way road - most certainly creates heaviness or tightness in the body).
On the muscular level, the relationship between the judge and the judged can manifest itself in a whole range of possibilities between hypertonic (too hard, too stiff, too dry) and hypotonic (too soft, too resigned, too flabby). The judge can be a soldier, a teacher, a "good" uncle, a "loving" mother, a governess, a priest, and so on; and the other side can react by being submissive, evasive, stubborn, rebellious, cunning, vicious, etc. Both sides are represented in the muscle tone and at the end of the day we are left feeling exhausted and empty. Similar processes happen in the body tissue, the body fluids, and the organs.
When we become aware of this inner relationship between the judge and the judged on the mental, emotional and physical levels, it may start to change. The judged can gradually learn to express its need for warmth and affection and the judge can turn into a nurturer and provider.
It is evident that our inner relationship in its new form is and will be reflected in our outer ones. The more aware we can become of its daily-life patterns, the more effective the change can be, and the more satisfactory will be the contact with our surroundings. The problem is that the body is very conservative and extremely suspicious of novelty. It will continue to live a life of its own, unless we really start to make it "our home" and take charge of it.
Unfortunately, this is only half of the life process. Coming back into our body is an enormously fulfilling task, but it can, if taken as a final goal, also become a dangerous one.
The danger of owning a place is that we may identify too much with it. This happens when we become over-attached to our body. It is one thing to own the feelings, which before we might have attributed to outer circumstances or other people's influences. But if we get caught up in our emotions, they will take over and will hamper us in a similar defensive way as the judge did before. Things will only appear to be different. People who do body therapy or any sort of deep emotional therapy get stuck sometimes at the stage where they discover that they have a right to feel what they feel and then don't go beyond that. The "stiff upper lip", for example, is a nuisance as long as it only serves to hold back our passion, but it also has its place and meaning in the specific and unique story of our life. Once we can separate it out from the strong inner drive, we can use its positive aspect to lead us into adulthood, where we can live our passion without doing damage to ourselves.
If, therefore - as a second step - we can learn to disengage from our body, then we will find out that there is an essence which lives in our physical organism that is different from it and has a life of its own. The process of separating ourselves from our feelings enables us to become a witness to ourselves. Balancing the faculties of owning a feeling and witnessing it is a very subtle and delicate task, but it creates the most unshakable foundation one can find in oneself.
We could reach our soul, the witness, the Higher Self, by gradually giving up the body and its ego involvement, as practitioners in schools of Eastern philosophies do. To us, though, it seems essential not to discount the body, but to regard it as a powerful tool for insight and expansion: first as an instrument that reflects the truth of inner development in the most accurate way, and then to help us to go further, because of its potential for emotion.
So, the whole process of undergoing body psychotherapy appears to us to be a transformation of energy. At this point, a mysterious paradox becomes evident: when people ignored the body's messages they were over-concerned with themselves, whereas now they can step back from their exaggerated self-involvement and make space for the higher, spiritual parts to live consciously in the physical body.
We characterise the Chiron approach as body-oriented, holistic, humanistic & integrative. In our work and teaching we draw on a wide range of psychotherapeutic approaches in a fairly eclectic way, making use of concepts and models as well as methods and techniques from diverse schools and orientations. Because this kind of eclecticism can lead to a fragmented and haphazard quality in one's work, we aim towards an integration of approaches on the basis of some fundamental holistic principles as well as being guided by the image of Chiron, the wounded healer.
Within the field of psychotherapy we bridge and bring together humanistic and analytic perspectives, recognising particular strengths and weaknesses in each of these polarities. By working towards such a synthesis, the tension between these fundamental polarities within the psychotherapeutic field can create mutual enrichment and refinement between the respective beliefs and values of these positions.
The Chiron approach is perhaps unique in its emphasis on organic body-mind integration through 'energetic' contact - between therapist and client as well as between body and mind of both people involved. Chiron trained therapists would see themselves as more active than many other psychotherapists in using the body, energetic and body awareness and the senses as fundamental instruments in the therapeutic contact, both in terms of perception as well as intervention. The notions of 'energetic perception' and 'somatic resonance' are basic ingredients in Chiron work.
The role of the body in psychotherapy is a controversial issue. We accept that working with the body can increase the dangers of gratification and collusion as well as enactment, acting out and regression. But on the other hand the field of psychotherapy itself is riddled with models and techniques in which we can't help but recognise the same separation between body and mind and deep sense of alienation from the wellsprings of life which are so endemic to our modern culture in general. This can result in an avoidance or a neglect of the physical roots of psychological pain.
Many psychotherapeutic approaches are caught in a pervasive ambivalence towards recognising the enormity and sheer intractibility of the body-mind split, and respond to it with a degree of objectification or collusion. By not stopping short at the verbalisation and understanding of patterns and conflicts we contend that a differentiated awareness of the body - not as a 'solution' or panacea, but on the contrary as an avenue into the tangible intensity of internal conflict - can help psychotherapists work in ways which actually avoid the dangers of acting out and at the same time have more fundamental and lasting effects.
Rather than any particular skill or knowledge which therapists may rely on, we consider, along with many other approaches, the therapeutic relationship itself as an essential transformative element. The image of Chiron as the 'wounded healer' expresses for us a therapeutic attitude and awareness which allows processes to occur in the crucible of relationship which create the possibility for increased integration. Many wounds need the contact with another person for them to be even felt - such wounds need to be touched and experienced with another before any transformation can happen.
This requires the therapist to be fully engaged in the relationship whilst maintaining an awareness and understanding of it. But our awareness of the interconnection between body, mind and psyche is not reserved for the client only: the principle of grounding mental processes in the physical and energetic reality of inner experience applies also to the therapist, and can help to anchor our awareness of countertransference (in the widest sense) in the body.
As in the field of psychotherapy in general, the number of Body Psychotherapy approaches has proliferated in the last few decades, offering a large array of theories, techniques and ways of working, such as Bioenergetics, Biosynthesis, Biodynamic Psychology, Radix, Neo-Reichian, Core Process, Core Energetics, Hakomi, Postural Integration, etc.
Chiron belongs very much to this more than 60 year old tradition of Body Psychotherapy which, in its origins, was strongly influenced by the work of Wilhelm Reich, a student and colleague of Freud. In the 1930's Reich began to include the body in psychoanalysis, initially by studying the function of sexuality. He then developed the principles of character analysis, most of which have since then entered the psychoanalytic mainstream. Later he turned his attention more and more to the 'energetic' dynamics of the human organism in psychological health and pathology by postulating the existence of 'bioenergy' - a development which led to a split from the psychoanalytic establishment. After having had to escape from Germany, Reich spent some years teaching and practising in Scandinavia before emigrating to the USA.
His therapeutic work and research were taken up both in Europe and in the USA by a variety of pupils and followers, who independently developed them further, thus engendering a whole range of quite distinct and varied approaches, all of which would nowadays be considered as belonging more to the humanistic field. The Chiron approach has grown primarily out of the European tradition of Body Psychotherapy, but is informed by theoretical developments in the USA. The term 'Body Psychotherapy' was coined by the European Association for Body Psychotherapy in 1991, and replaces terminology such as 'body-oriented' or 'body-centered'.
Much of the pain and suffering which bring people to explore their 'inner world' in psychotherapy has to do with a wide range of symptoms which are experienced as intensely physical in some way or have some other obvious link with the body. So for many clients the body is very much involved from the outset, and usually this is quite explicit, e.g. in conditions such as stress and hypertension, anxiety or panic attacks, addictions and eating disorders or sexual difficulties. Whenever the body is experienced as 'out of control', what becomes more apparent is an underlying 'body-mind split'.
"I beat it or praise it, I feed it and clean and nurse it when necessary. I urge it on without consulting it and hold it back against its will. When my body-horse is well-behaved I generally ignore it, but when it gets unruly - which is all too often - I pull out the whip to beat it back into reasonable submission."
In our modern Western culture the body carries neglected shadow aspects of our being. For most of us the mind and the body are at war, and there is a battle between conscious and unconscious forces. It would be inaccurate to think of these two statements as equivalent and clearly both are oversimplifications, but they point to an underlying inner reality which Body Psychotherapy attempts to relate to and work with. At the root of most emotional problems we find an internal conflict between a variety of spontaneous processes on the one hand and what the person thinks of as their 'personality' on the other. If the person lives with such an unresolved internal conflict for long enough, a whole host of addictions and other somatic, psychosomatic and emotional symptoms ensue, along with a pervasive sense of alienation and self-denial.
"In modern times the ancient gods have become diseases."
As Body Psychotherapists we work from the supposition that we are energetic beings, i.e that energetic processes are fundamental to all human functioning. Activities such as thinking, feeling and moving are rooted in energetic processes which shape and structure the activity, and which therefore tell us something about the 'how' rather than the 'what'- they reveal the inner experience beyond the outward behaviour. On an energetic level the body is constantly in rhythmic movement: expansion and contraction; inward and outward; charge and discharge. Many of these movements occur outside of awareness - they are generally spontaneous and involuntary movements. They originate on a vegetative level and are linked to the autonomous nervous system. Body Psychotherapy attends to and follows these movements as they connect with the breath and with consciousness. Breathing forms the bridge between involuntary and voluntary systems - it is semi-conscious and fuels movement, self-expression and the quality of contact with the world.
We are interested in how the flow of energy is shaped and organised on all these levels, how it becomes blocked and interrupted and how we can encourage its liberation and self-regulation. Unexpressed or trapped energy creates tension and physical holding, whereas uncontained or overwhelming energy creates fear and external conflict. The familiar consequence is either a body in internal conflict with impulses habitually held back, or a body habitually driven by impulses to enact conflict with the environment. As Body Psychotherapists we constantly work with the notion of the body-mind as an energetic matrix reflecting the person's life history, and the recognition that psychological wounds are carried and remembered in the body.
One cornerstone of our work is the biodynamic principle of learning to trust inner impulses, based on the belief that there is an inherent healing power in the body and that the more it is acknowledged, the more it can unfold in a self-regulating way. We work directly with the client's body, sometimes with physical touch, other times with breathing and movement to enable the client to become aware of tensions and conflicts in the body. There are usually layers of feelings and memories which emerge and which need gradual integration.
Just as any other form of psychotherapy, bodywork has generated certain fantasies and popular stereotypes, which are to some extent rooted in its history and tradition, but easily grow into prejudices about the possible dangers and excesses of this kind of work. It is not uncommon for people to imagine that they have to be unwittingly plunged into discharge of primitive emotion or, worse, are required to 'perform' it in a mechanical and rather unrelated way.
Whilst some of the fantasies about bodywork are to do with the way it has been practised (e.g. provocative and invasive techniques associated with the notion of 'breaking through the armour'), they also reflect each person's individual projection into the body, like the body as the magical Good Mother promising a return to the Garden of Eden, the body as an uncontrollable and overwhelming cauldron of instincts (polymorphous-perverse), the body as primitive and violent, the body as a machine, etc. These projections more than actual 'bodywork' itself are the root of the fear and idealisation which the notion evokes, and they also distinguish different types of bodywork.
In our understanding 'bodywork' is not a technique or a treatment which is done to the client. In contrast to some other forms of bodywork, it is therefore our belief that it is not any particular technique, however subtle or sophisticated, which is therapeutic in itself, but that real change can only happen through the relationship with another human being. The original formation of habitual patterns (which Reich called 'character') usually occured in the dynamic with people in our early environment. It therefore makes sense that the working-through and resolution of these patterns also needs to happen within a relationship. Gestalt philosophy has developed a similar principle, i.e. that inner growth takes place most effectively at the 'contact boundary', which means in relation to other people. Therefore Chiron attempts a form of bodywork which takes place in relationship.
As mentioned above, a central aspect of the therapeutic position in Body Psychotherapy is an awareness of what is happening in the body of the therapist and the client. Much of the body's activity is involuntary, e.g. the postures we tend to adopt and the unconscious gestures and body movements which occur in response to situations in everyday life. The unconscious can be seen to manifest through the autonomic nervous system as it functions in the body. Besides noticing the obvious, but often unconscious body movements which occur spontaneously in our interactions with others, the therapist also pays special attention to very subtle movements, such as, for example, a holding of the breath or a slight alteration in the depth of the in-breath, or subtle changes in skin tone and colour.
The therapist will proceed in different ways, but in principle this type of work goes back to Reich's vegetotherapy. The Chiron Centre has developed these early ways of working and incorporated biodynamic vegetotherapy and biosynthesis principles.
Having noticed these phenomena, the therapist - depending on the client and the process - may draw the client's attention to these changes and explore how they relate to the situation being discussed or to the relationship with the therapist (often these processes will be the early stirrings of transferential episodes). A body psychotherapist would be wary, however, of shifting the attention too soon onto a mental level, especially at a stage when verbalisation might prematurely label and thereby destroy something newly emerging. This can be as inappropriate as asking an artist about the meaning of a work of art whilst it is still being created.
Physical touch may or may not be part of the communication between client and therapist. Sometimes the therapist's touch can provide an important anchor which supports the client in staying connected to their experience. Other times the therapist will hold the awareness of these unconscious body movements and - rather than addressing or exposing them - bear silent witness to the interaction. Meanwhile the therapist can attend to their own body awareness, e.g. contact their own bodily well-being. Out of this will often come a spontaneous moment of 'bodyshift'. The client and therapist may be aware of these moments and experience them as heat, pulsation, expanded breathing or there may be peristalsis. Although some people might think of these experiences as too subtle or subjective, they have a very real physical basis (it is quite possible to simply monitor these processes with biofeedback equipment, a stethoscope or by measuring skin resistance).
If we allow ourselves to not reserve the capacity for consciousness for the mind only, the experience of a 'bodyshift' may be viewed as a moment of 'insight' on a level of body consciousness which is precisely not a mental understanding. In contrast to analytic theory, Body Psychotherapy does not always consider conscious insight as the main contributing factor in the process of change. Shifts on other levels (e.g. cellular, biochemical, muscular) are equally important ingredients in transformation. A level normally inaccessible to awareness, e.g. the way in which the cells of our body relate to each other in everyday life, may be as much in need of change as consciously more accessible levels, e.g. the way we relate to other people.
The use of touch is an inherent part of Body Psychotherapy. This does not imply, however, that we advocate an indiscriminate 'acting on gut-feelings'. In order to be able to distinguish when touch is appropriate and when not, a differentiated and sophisticated perception of energetic contact and a consistent theoretical rationale are required.
Touch for all of us is a basic mode of human communication, transcending other modes of relationship. Sometimes words are not enough to convey understanding to the client. Touch can say "I am with you as you reveal this."
When working more directly with the unconscious and its manifestations through the autonomic nervous system, physical touch becomes the most direct way of communicating. An impulse or unconscious stirring can be amplified at this stage through touch. Verbalisation would often not access or convey the depth of what is being experienced, and may have the effect of aborting the process.
In order for work with physical contact to become possible, the client obviously needs to give explicit verbal permission. But non-verbal permission is just as important: the therapist attends to and gives equal weight to the client's physical response to the touch. For example, if the client's body goes into involuntary contraction then touch would usually be contra-indicated. Where there is both explicit and bodily agreement about touch, the therapist may proceed. However, with some clients there is insufficient therapeutic space to work with the direct use of physical touch in which case the therapist would therefore avoid it altogether as part of their therapeutic process.
Our beliefs about touch in psychotherapy are clearly based on a different model and different intentions from Freud's principles of abstinence and non-gratification which he viewed as necessary and essential elements of the therapeutic position. But although we disagree with his conclusions, we consider the analytic thinking behind these principles as relevant to Body Psychotherapy. We agree that it can be detrimental to the therapeutic process to gratify the client in some way and that touch can be an inappropriate gratification.
But that does not mean that we necessarily have to avoid touch and gratification altogether. There are situations where the therapist's withholding of touch can become a pointless re-enactment or be experienced as sadistic and cruel as it unnecessarily denies therapist and client a spontaneous aspect of being human. This does not mean that as Body Psychotherapists we want to avoid being seen by the client as sadistic and cruel - it is precisely these kinds of perceptions which therapy is all about. But having allowed and worked with perceptions like this in the transference, a dogmatic adherence to the principle of abstinence can be seen as based in the therapist's own fear of their body and physical intimacy or a fantasy of being overwhelmed by their own needs for touch. In this case the therapist's rules about therapy can re-enact and re-enforce the body-mind split, and this is true for the individual client and also for the collective function of psychotherapy in our culture.
Culturally, there is a lot of confusion around touch. At its crudest, for many people any touch becomes sexualised: "If I touch you, this will end in sexual intercourse." This is a fantasy arising out of an impoverished and undifferentiated understanding of touch. We understand this in the context of early developmental wounds and failure of the carer's touch to contain and mirror the child.
But a sense of touch as being a normal and essential part of being human and of relationship can slowly be regained, and Body Psychotherapy works towards this potential. From a more differentiated perspective, touch is an exploration. The absence of touch, the fantasy of touching and being touched, and the reality of it can all be explored. The main principle we adhere to as Body Psychotherapists is that therapeutic touch is never for the therapist's benefit, always the client's.
This is why abstinence from touch (which we think of as unnecessary) is fundamentally different from the ethical boundary around sexuality (which we absolutely do think of as necessary): the destructive effect of sexual contact between therapist and client lies not so much in the fact that it is sexual per se as that it is inevitably gratifying to the therapist. Mutuality and mutual gratification are essential to sexual contact, and it is the gratification of the therapist rather than the sexual aspect which turns therapy into a 'normal' relationship. This is why sexual contact between therapist and client destroys the therapeutic container in a way which is not necessarily the case for physical contact, if the therapist can rely on a differentiated sense of touch.
Touch can be used in a variety of ways in Body Psychotherapy, apart from its use in vegetotherapy. Its meaning and function clearly depend on the client's particular developmental issues: it can confirm the right of the client to exist; it can activate self-nurturing and compensate for early touch deprivation; it can give a tangible sense of knowing where one begins and ends or be an essential step in differentiating inner and outer.
The term 'holistic' was coined in the 1930's and is associated with an understanding of the universe in terms of fields and systems and their self-organising, self-regulating and self-transcending characteristics. In this abstract form it has been applied to all kinds of structures from the micro-level of atoms and sub-atomic particles to human beings to the macro-level of stars and galaxies. It implies a process of evolution in which more complex and more embracing 'wholes' develop out of previously fragmented parts, thus creating qualitatively new systems: the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. 'Holistic', therefore, denotes a perspective which transcends the Newtonian paradigm of dualism, reductionism, materialism. In terms of brain hemispheres it is associated with right-brain functioning, i.e. perception of pattern, process and relationship as opposed to the left-brain focus on analysis, detail and content.
"Reality, in the modern conception, appears as a tremendous hierarchical order of organised entities, leading, in a superposition of many levels, from physical and chemical to biological and sociological systems. Such hierarchical structure and combination into systems of ever higher order is characteristic of reality as a whole." Bertalanffy
What this means for psychotherapy, on the simplest level, is a recognition that in human beings a range of qualitatively distinct levels interact in many subtle ways, namely: body - emotion - mind and spirit. It further implies the recognition that the connection and interdependence between these levels can be broken and the sense of wholeness be disturbed and fragmented. What starts out as an abstract notion of 'holism', can be experienced as an immediate and tangible subjective reality: there are times when we feel more or less whole, and there are moments when our sense of wholeness shifts or transforms.
Within the diverse field of psychotherapy we therefore practice an approach which sets out to get involved with one another as 'whole' human beings. It is precisely the pain of NOT feeling 'whole' which brings people to therapy, often with an idealised, biased and one-sided fantasy of what 'wholeness' might feel like and how it can be 'achieved' through therapy. As C.G. Jung has emphasised again and again, feeling 'whole' does not at all mean pursuing an image of being 'perfect' or even free of conflict. Dealing with idealised fantasies of 'wholeness' is a delicate matter, because it is only too easy to fall into the other extreme of questioning and deconstructing human ideals and longing to the point of cynicism. Disappointment with therapy can easily be turned into a fashionable reductionism which doubts any potential for real transformation and derides it as illusion. One example of this is the recurring media image of the therapist as exploiting the dependency of vulnerable and desperate clients. In between the Scylla of rose-tinted idealisation and the Charybdis of cynical resignation we occasionally sense, intuit, or glimpse that it is well within human reach to experience oneself as 'whole' (or - if not completely 'whole' - at least to experience transformative processes leading to an increased sense of wholeness).
The pain of feeling 'un-whole' cannot be addressed by exclusively engaging, for example, on the level of the mind or the body alone. Healing (which - in its root - means 'making whole') depends on both client and therapist recognising their 'un-wholeness', their splits, their wounds, their inner conflict and committing themselves - with and inspite of these wounds - to a relationship in which integration, transformation and healing can occur.
We call our work 'holistic' because we do not see the psychological manifestations of human pain and suffering or of human growth and development as separate from the body or the mind. It is precisely the tendency to expect solutions from specialists, to put the various aspects of human pain and suffering into different compartments, to be treated by different 'experts', which is a manifestation of the fragmentation which we see at the root of the modern problem. Holism extends ecological thinking beyond the natural environment into the human mind. The psyche which psychotherapy wants to respond to is not a separate compartment or specialist territory. A holistic perspective recognises the reality of fragmentation, splits and conflict, but also intuits the larger 'whole' which resides as potential within the conflict.
Physical symptom have psychological meaning, emotions occur tangibly within the body, mental processes have a physical basis and engender bodily reactions. Individual conflicts mirror collective struggles. Psyche does not need to be conceived of as an interiority, but could be seen to reside equally in nature, in human communities, in money or computers. Somatic countertransference in some ways is a tautology because all reactions to the client, even if we are aware of them only on a mental level, immediately have a physical counterpart. The body can't help but respond moment-to-moment to our emotional and mental processes: the image of biting into a lemon is enough to make our mouth water. Every word we speak emerges out of and through the body, and has an instantaneous physical effect in the split-second that we make sense of it and understand it by inevitably relating it to a concrete and usually feeling-toned experience.
These statements cut across the kind of modern dualistic thinking which creates and perpetuates splits between body - emotion - mind - spirit, masculine - feminine, inner - outer, art - science - religion, personal - political and a myriad of other dualisms. These are some of the major splits which are symptoms and manifestations of our modern sense of fragmentation and 'un-wholeness'. But it is only on the level of intellectual abstraction that these polarities lose the unifying thread which binds them into a larger whole. By working psychotherapeutically within a holistic framework we address the inner experience of fragmentation behind dualistic mental constructions and belief systems. What becomes apparent then is the feeling of trappedness or powerlessness within seemingly rational common-sense statements. We try to follow and explore in individual detail the trapping patterns which may be easily recognisable on a collective level, but are usually perpetuated by observation and description.
"A King goes to a Wiseperson and asks how it is that the Earth doesn't fall down ? The Wiseperson replies, "The Earth is resting on a lion." "On what , then, is the lion resting ?" "The lion is resting on an elephant." "And on what is the elephant resting ?" "The elephant is resting on a turtle." "On what is the ... ?" "You can hold it right there, your Majesty. It's turtles all the way down."
The humanistic impulse in psychotherapy dates back to the 60's, and intially developed as a reaction against what was perceived as a reductionistic and materialistic paradigm, both within the traditional psychoanalytic as well as behaviouristic approaches. There was a surge of belief in human possibilities and potential, especially for change and transformation, and a mistrust of power, authority and tradition. There was an intention to re-establish the pleasure principle, along with a burgeoning of interest in transpersonal and spiritual realities. Humanistic therapists have been influential in expanding our view of human nature, and the holistic aspect of our work owes much to this tradition which includes approaches such as person-centred (Rogers), Gestalt (Perls), Psychosynthesis (Assagioli), Transactional Analysis (Berne) as well as existential perspectives and theorists like Maslow and Wilber.
The therapeutic approaches which developed from this position are generally client-centred with an openess towards the possibility of an authentic meeting of equals in the therapeutic relationship. There is a profound belief in the client's capacity to heal themselves. The client is seen for their potential, capabilities and strengths, i.e. for what they have rather than what is lacking and problematic. A common statement in humanistic circles maintains that the best expert on the client is the client and questions the 'medical model' and the idea that the therapist needs to direct the process. In terms of therapeutic presence, humanistic approaches are more interactive and experimental, often using tools and exercises like psychodrama and roleplay, various forms of dialogue work, guided visualisation and imagery and many others. There is a strong humanistic influence on our training with its emphasis on experiential learning.
"Great sages ...have unanimously told us that ... the ultimate state ... is not divine knowledge but divine ignorance (or emptiness). Knowledge - high or low, sacred or profane, exalted or debased - is simply a contraction in awareness. It separates seamless consciousness into one state which sees or knows, and one state which is seen or known. In this mutilated and fragmented state we never have reality."
Over the last few years interest in the theme of psychotherapy integration has increased dramatically. It seems that for too long the field of psychotherapy has itself been disparate and divided into a multitude of factions, schools and approaches, thus reflecting the internal fragmentation, splits and disintegration which bring our clients and patients to us in the first place. The field of psychotherapy is like the psyche of its patients - and practitioners. It is dangerous to 'side' with one aspect of the psyche against another. Recognising this 'parallel process' can lead us to an appreciation of other approaches, often diametrically opposed to our own, and a valuing of the whole field of psychotherapy as an organism. When we come across apparently irreconcilable beliefs and perspectives, it is important to remember that theories don't integrate - people do. In keeping with our body-oriented principles, this awareness reconnects different theoretical stances with their underlying 'energetic' and existential positions, recognising that there is no theory which is not a reflection of the theorist's feelings and often unconscious and archetypal imagery.
The impulse and the need to integrate both arise out of a painful awareness of splits - between 'inner and outer', body and mind, masculine and feminine, ego and Self. The extent of the split and the pain inherent in it are not always consciously acknowledged. It is not easy to embrace the necessity of suffering as an inevitable element in any real transformation, but in our opinion psychotherapy can make a valuable contribution to the compulsive avoidance of pain in our culture. Working towards a healing of these splits is only possible in a congruent way if as practitioners we are engaged in a process of integration ourselves, both in terms of our individual and collective wounds as well as in terms of our theories and approaches. We inherit the wounds of our 'real' childhood fathers and mothers, and we inherit the wounds of our therapeutic fathers and mothers - the founders or originators of the particular school we were initially attracted to and trained in.
Each approach - in terms of its theory and technique, in terms of its assumptions (about human nature and psychological health, about therapy, about the world at large), in terms of its beliefs and values - has its strengths and shadow aspects. An essential aspect of training psychotherapists is therefore work on the particular shadow aspects of the approach they were attracted to. This requires attention to each student's fantasies about the therapist's role and their often unconscious investment in certain habitual relational positions which mean that the therapist will use the therapeutic role in a defensive way. For us, the image of the wounded healer helps us work towards integrating the role of therapist with the person. This is grounded in an understanding that there is no 'right' approach or intervention (to hide behind), but that the client needs the therapist to be in conflict, to the point of losing their therapeutic position. It is difficult for therapists to maintain a sense of congruence and authenticity unless they are able to embrace its opposite, i.e. conflict, incongruence and fragmentation, as necessary ingredients in the role they take on.
Our own version of 'integrative' work is evolving. We are open to and interested in other ways of working and we see ourselves in a process of accepting, working with and integrating the underlying inherent and inherited tensions, conflicts and splits within the field. By teaching within this perspective we hope to contribute to the further development of a body-oriented perspective where integration between body, mind and psyche is seen as the basis for integration of different approaches.
Integration is going to be an important issue over the next decade at least, the dangers being on the one hand a further division and fragmentation or the hegemony of certain positions to the exclusion of others. Integration depends on holding the tension between plurality and unification.
"Each force is enemy if you do not love it. You cannot love it if you do not know it. If you become one with it, there is no more enemy." Talking with Angels