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East meets West: The rise of core process psychotherapy

A big change is underway in the field we call ‘mental health’ and for those of us looking to begin work with a psychotherapist, it’s important to understand what that big change is, and how it might affect our journey undergoing psychotherapy.

For more than a century in the West, we’ve all been taught about the concept of so-called ‘mental illnesses’, a belief that some of us develop conditions or disorders that a mental health professional can help us to recover from, or to cure.

What many people coming to psychotherapy for the first time may not realise, is that a growing number of psychotherapists, counsellors and mental health professionals no longer subscribe to the notion of ‘mental illness’. And that’s because often people are more well than they realise in the midst of a so-called mental health crisis.  

In fact many people later acknowledge that the mental and emotional suffering they experience in the difficult moments of their lives, ends up being precisely what leads them to make important, and long overdue, changes for the better. 

Unfortunately as a society we’ve become quite focused on trying to fix our symptoms and behaviours, and so we often fail to develop a deeper understanding of our personal stories and experiences; stories which help us to clearly see and understand why we might be feeling the way we are.

A sacred, innermost reference point

Ever have a gut feeling that something wasn’t right? Ever follow your intuition only to later realise things were exactly as you believed them to be? That’s your innermost reference point. In core process psychotherapy it’s also known as our brilliant sanity, and like a lantern, it holds the potential to illuminate the path ahead, and shows us how to emerge from places of darkness and disconnection. 

The big paradigm shift (way of thinking) that’s now taking place in the field of mental health, is actually in many ways also a return to ancient wisdom, to the sacred. The term sacred doesn’t refer to any notions of God, but rather to that inner part of ourselves that we may have forgotten, or lost touch with.

Psychotherapy is very often a spiritual journey, even though it’s rarely a religious one. But what does the word spiritual even mean? In a nutshell, spirituality refers to everyone’s natural connection to the wonder and energy of life. Psychotherapy holds the key to helping us to rediscover that connection, and to helping us find meaning in the things we’ve gone through.  

In discovering the meaning bound up in our experiences, we’re able to develop new understandings which lead us to appreciate how even the most painful moments in our lives have often provided spiritual nourishment of some kind.

In core process psychotherapy, the therapist might be considered more like a guide. Guides are people who have walked a pathway before us and whose job it is to help us navigate unfamiliar landscapes. A rite of passage is a difficult, and at times painful experience, the ultimate purpose of which is to enable us to change and to grow.

When we can attune to our brilliant sanity as we go through these important rites of passage, we’re able to start living our lives in entirely new ways. Unfortunately however, sometimes this very intelligent part of our mind and body - the innermost reference point - can be sidelined, or ignored.  

Often it can be shouting to us in the form of anxiety, depression or feelings of fear and panic. Crucially, even though it causes us suffering, it is ultimately always on our side, championing us at every step of the way as we journey through life. We all possess an inner wisdom which orients us towards growth, just like an acorn contains within it the blueprint for the oak tree.

Healing in relationship, through ‘joint practice’

Core process psychotherapists are trained at the internationally renowned Karuna Institute in Devon. The core process approach offers a unique fusion of Eastern and Western teachings about the mind and body, drawing on ancient Buddhist teachings of how and why we experience suffering, and then combining them with well established Western psychotherapeutic approaches.

Core process psychotherapy is a powerful, non-pathologising (not framed through the lens of mental illness) way of meeting the rich panoply of reasons which lead us to begin therapy. It’s an approach to therapy which can help us to reframe experiences that we may initially experience as negative, as positive opportunities for deep and lasting change.

In core process psychotherapy, the shared therapeutic journey between the therapist and the client is called joint practice. Both the therapist and the client embark on a journey of self-discovery; a journey that requires two people to be willing and open to whatever arises in the therapeutic space.

Instead of pushing away whatever might be arising, we learn to meet it with openness and a sense of curiosity. And as we learn to let it in, slowly we might find that we're able to understand what it wants to say to us, or perhaps even that it possesses a wisdom that we need in order to heal.

A core process psychotherapist will work slowly, safely and compassionately with their client using this method of joint-practice. Joint practice means that both the therapist and the client are attuned to what’s coming up in the present moment, and that nobody is distracted trying to 'figure things out' or claiming to have the full picture.  

When we undergo a therapy session using joint practice, it’s about paying attention to what we’re noticing in the mind and the body, learning to connect to our innermost reference point, and to being open and curious enough to allow for new realisations to emerge.

At times our lives are like a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces joined together the wrong way. Sometimes what’s needed is for the entire picture to fall apart before our eyes. This is painful, but it’s also the only way things can then come together again and then fall into place. 

Psychotherapy helps us to put the jigsaw pieces of our selves together in a way that allows us to see and experience a clearer picture of who we really are, and ultimately, to feel reconnected to the joy and wonder of life.


The views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Association of Core Process Psychotherapists or its members.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Chiswick, London, W4 4DH

Written by James Scurry

Chiswick, London, W4 4DH

James Scurry is a UKCP accredited Core Process Pscyhotherapist and Co-Founder of the British Mental Health initiative SafelyHeldSpaces.org. He holds a Master’s degree in Mindfulness-based Core Process Psychotherapy from The Karuna Institute in Devon and has worked as a Senior Television News Producer for more than a decade for Sky News in London.

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