The flowing process of direction and change in therapy
Watching a loggerhead sea turtle struggle out of the nest and make its way to the water is an emotional experience. They scramble to the sea and begin navigating an enormous journey, 8,000 miles across the open ocean and back home again. Migrating birds, honeybees, and millions of dragonflies fly thousands of miles from India to Africa.
Scientists have puzzled for years about how they find their way, and they have been looking in astonishment for explanations such as possible guiding particles in the brain. Driftwood, crabs, birds, raccoons, fish etc, are just a few of obstacles that sea turtles may have to overcome for their survival. Before scientists, philosophers pondered the spontaneity of some of the activities of living beings such as the healing of wounds, the regeneration of mutilated parts, the mechanical skill of animals (Schopenhauer, 1844) - as though an internal force, will or instinct may drive the development and maintenance of the body. A ‘knowledge of things in themselves’ (Schmidt in Schopenhauer, 1844).
Like one of these travellers, human beings are involved in a flowing process of direction and change in which autopoiesis, self-organisation and self-determination are fundamental principals, whilst freedom and safety are essential conditions. This seems to suggest there is a risk of malpractice when the therapist's expectations or knowledge is projected or imposed on the patient, driving their processes of exploration, discovery, understanding and constructing meaning. This is aligned to Rogers' core idea that, “as material is given by the client, it is the therapist's function to help him to recognise and clarify the emotions which he feels” (Rogers, 1940).
A client's view: "This is helping me to get my head in order. I like making lists, and if my head is not in order then I don’t know what I am doing. This is leading me to organise my thoughts; it makes me feel looked after and you are helping me to understand. It is an intellectual discussion. It seems like me teaching you about me, and you taking a genuine interest in me. I like when you asked “can you help me to understand this?”
Clients teach therapists about themselves, and not vice versa; paraphrasing Galilei, therapists can’t teach anything - only make clients realise that the answers are already inside them.
- Rogers, C., R. (1940). The Process of Therapy. Journal of Consulting Psychology 4, no. 5: 161-164.
- Schopenhauer, A. (1984) The World As Will and Idea, 3 vols. transl. R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1883–1886)
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