Sunday, 22 July 2012

Down from the Ivory Tower: a treatise on the dissolution of concretised belief systems

One might ask, ‘what is psychotherapy?’ or ‘what is the point of psychotherapy?’ or ‘what are the outcomes of psychotherapy?’ As a traditional psychotherapist I might answer, we don't have ‘points’ or ‘outcomes’… probably!  I might simply follow my training model and work within its general fixed historical rules as opposed to looking at the unique context of particular individual’s specific situation.

Let’s consider a piece of satire – let’s call our pretend paper ‘Research for real people’ – to help explain why!

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, but not too far away, at the topmost top of a Tower made of the most beautiful and ancient Ivory,(on the back of many elephants before we knew better) there lived a very, very, very clever Professor in a room right at the top.

So clever was he, in fact, with so much clever stuff filling his brain that the words in his head had begun to grow like hair which he had to plait, because the words were sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssoooooooooooooooooooooooooooo very, verry looooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng.

The Professor’s strange hair could not even grow out of the windows of the Tower as they had been filled in, with only one tiny hole left to look out of – left so he could focus very hard on the poor people way down below. But at least his strange hair kept the walls insulated from the light and sounds below and protected him from the heat of summer and the cold winds in winter. In fact sp protected was he in his own little world he didn’t even notice the changes in the seasons! He felt very warm and safe, knowing how his every word and indeed, though they were not only very long there were also very many of themcould protect him not only from the cold but almost anything at all!

He also used a bendy telescope, designed by his teacher before him, and indeed the one or two before that - or at any rate, a very long time ago, before people moved to towns and when they lived in the country in harmony with the seasons and weather and the turning of the moon. He could use the telescope, he told himself, to follow those poor people down below and watch them - for there was nothing he liked more than to work out what they were doing and why he supposed they were doing it! This tiny little window helped him to concentrate on one person at a time directly below. And as he was such a clever chap, he had another three windows too, one in each corner of his Tower – for, needless to say, it wasn't round but squareso he could follow the person all around the castle keep.

His servant, the faithful Acuk, brought food twice a day (though he didn't always remember to eat it) and took away his various treatises, very clever ones of course that no-one else could really understand as the words had become sooooo verrrry loooonnnngggg as to the whys and wherefores of his learned observations on the people down below. These treatises were published in learned publications that his peers read and argued and fought about; for indeed, each thought they had the answers to the world’s questions which they too had written in their own ivory towers. These treatises in their turn enabled the governors to control the poor people down below by labelling them and putting them into boxes so they could be treated accordingly. And everyone knew that that was what a treatise meant.

One day the clever man heard a muffled sound from below and felt a funny sensation on his head as if the words were pulling on his scalp. 'Ow' he said; 'Whatever could that be?' But soon it stopped and he continued his watching and writing, for that was all he knew.

Now much time had passed and he eventually noticed the land below had grown a forest in some parts and the river had changed is path - and that as a result, it was really quite hard to see the person he was studying so intently as well as before. But still, he continued to write and still the world (those in power at least) below were entranced by his clever messages and his theories as trained by his teacher and his teacher and even his teacher before that. For he knew he was right and that his entire world and all his life were given meaning via his righteous utterances on the poor people below.

Then one evening when the moon was full and bright, the pulling sensation happened again but this time it would not go away. He decided to go to look through the window, for he expected all the poor people below should and indeed really ought to be in their beds. But he saw nothing in the darkness through his bendy telescope. Then suddenly there was shuffling and a muttering as if someone was fighting their way through his plaited hair. Then to his shock, he felt a sharp tap on his shoulder. Frantically and vaguely (if you can do both togetherand of course as a professor, he could), he looked around but could see nothing through the swathes of plaited words. Then, through the darkness, came a very squeaky voice.

'Excuse me Professor, for that is who I heard you were. I have come to talk to you and tell you about myself and my family. We live in the little village Grassysward, way down below.’

The Professor peered through the hair and finally saw a very small person peering back at him.

'There is no village down below', said the Professor. ‘I have been watching for many eons and I know this to be so as my teacher and his before him and even the one before him told me and they know best.’

'Oh but there is! And we all live in it. It is just round the corner, you can't see it through those peepholes, but it is there. Do you also not know about about the factory at the other side which is polluting our water and making our old folks lose their minds? Or the sweet shop, so big now and so full of goodies that many of our children are going mad with the ‘sweetie sickness’. There is no room to play and run and many of us are sad.’

‘What?!’ said the Professor, ‘are you talking about, you very silly very small phenomenological person, there are no such things. You cannot tell me anything, as I have much longer and cleverer words than you and all those other poor people. I am here to help you, for I know all there is to know about you from my years of observations and the knowledge and teachings of my teacher and his before him and even one before that, The Great Fedure, who has never had anything to do with these invisible villages and factories. How dare you question me!!'

Now the Professor had surprised himself with his anger at allowing himself to become upset by one of the poor people down below. So quickly he gathered his decorum, which he kept of course in his back pocket and looking down from his great height suggested that the poor person left how he had come, from one of the word plaits which had wiggled out through a crack in the Ivory Tower and allowed the poor person to climb up and dare to invade his sacred place of learning.

'Before I go,' said the poor person, tugging his forelock (a key identification of poor persons). ‘We know that your research is important to help make generalised rules for us poor folk to live a good and dutiful life. For which, much thanks! But when these rules and labels apply to an individual they cannot be true, for we aren't in a bottle in a laboratory, no-one can possibly know all the multitude of effects on one person those aspects that make that individual unique, mysterious and wonderful. This must be the case and you don't acknowledge that nobody can possibly be completely objective with regard to the observed, the human being. Think of the new science of physics. Stop pretending that you can be completely objective and accept that all research with regards to human beings is going to be, at best, flawed.'

'How very dare you. What do you know of such things when I have never heard of them?' said the Professor. 'You are making it all up. I am in power and you must follow me and my words.'

'Sir Professor, please listen to me. Why don't you include us and ask us and our friends and family what we want, then? Why do you stare at us through windows and then say we are not good enough to even offer us your treatment. How do you think that makes us feel? When you do give treatment we want it to work, we don't want to be in therapy for years, we want to live our lives and to be happy enough. Is that too much to ask? Why don't you take into account the pollution and the unnatural diet and the fact that we don't exercise and our society makes us too busy to spend time with those we love? Why do you have to give us drugs so that the chemical factory which is polluting our brains can get richer and richer?

‘You are so deeply protected in your word-hair that you can't even look round the corners and see how we relate to each other. There's so much in the world and we are not rats in a maze but humans and you really should be a-mazed-at… how extraordinary we are. Humans are not all the bad things that you are always looking at and putting us in your forensic boxes. I am going to put you in one of your boxes - as someone who can only concentrate on one thing. You don't like that do you, well neither do I nor my friends. Don't you dare try and put us in your box until you have walked a mile or two in our boots!'

At this, he handed some rather worn-out boots, more holes than leather, to the shocked Professor.

'Get down now from this Tower and have the decency to ask us what we want from your illustrious help, instead of putting your teacher from the past and his teacher before him who told you what was right on a pedestal. I am sure they helped people in the past, but when people remember what great teachers have said, the life has gone out of it. The idea ceases to live and breathe anymore; it has become a structure, fossilised even in time and space, with every person following either watering down the initial idea until it becomes so frozen and fixed that it batters people to death or so watered down it is just a wishy washy nasty-tasting mess of meaninglessness!

‘Our dear Abbess in the monastery sits and listens to us every day in the village green, rain or shine, winter or summer. She knows about the plants and helps us at birth and death and through all the stages of our lives. She has asked me to come and would love to talk with you about how to help us live, not be kept as victims and 'interesting' phenomena to observe. How would you like that?'

At the mention of the Abbess, the Professor remembered his childhood and sitting round the fire listening to tales of the abbess, before he had become so very, very clever. He was then all of a sudden a little afraid, for he knew what everyone knew that when you peer into the Abbess then she will surely peer back into you…

So endeth this sorry tale. The next exciting episode is up to you!

At A Quiet Place, we are tuned to the individual, their particular needs, wants and circumstance. We also look to nature and value the simple and universal concerns of good food, clean and healthy environment, physical exercise and human relationships. We are aware of excellent theories like bonding being crucial to developing relationships and families need to work together but we don’t make people feel even worse than they do already. In order to achieve change we have our ACE theory

  • Awareness-they need to be aware of the specific behaviour
  • Choices-they need to know there are other choices and have support in trying them out 
  •  Energy to make those changes-stress chemistry often means inertia, people can be so exhausted they find their only choice is to do nothing-they need process and support to finding that energy. Otherwise feeling blamed equals anger which turned inwards is depression-no energy there at all and a waste of time for those who profess to help.

That’s as much ‘theory’ as we go in for – and why our holistic psychotherapy is attractive and inclusive to those who choose to enjoy it! 


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