Carl Rogers and person-centred counselling and therapy

~~~

Counselling Blog Post: Sunday 8th December 2019

~~~

Carl Rogers and Person-Centred Counselling: Some critical reflections

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2019

~~~

Introduction

Carl RogersThis is the second blog post, in a series of posts, about systems of counselling and psychotherapy.  Last week I wrote about Freud’s system of psychoanalysis****; and today I want to reflect upon a few key elements of Carl Rogers’ system of Person-centred counselling.

At first glance, there could not be anything more wholesome than something called ‘person-centred counselling’.  Being ‘person centred’ sounds laudable, and beyond the need for any kind of reflection or inspection.

Although my first experience of counselling and therapy involved primarily the neo-Freudian approach to psychoanalysis (in 1968), I also had a couple of encounters with Carl Rogers’ person-centred, or client-centred approach.  My first experience of the person-centred approach was working with two individuals, in Bangladesh, who had been through some training and therapy at Big Sur, California, in the mid-1970’s. They had worked with Carl Rogers, and I picked up a flavour of their ‘non-directive, humanistic approach’ to life by osmosis.

On becoming a personThen, in 1979, back in the UK, I stumbled upon Roger’s book, ‘On Becoming a Person’, which I enjoyed enormously.  (Later, I realized that it was somewhat amoral – or lacking in moral sense – in that it elevated the needs of the individual above the social relationships found in a situation, in every case, as a matter of principle; whereas, in my moral judgement, social commitments and responsibilities are also important, and have to be balanced against the needs of the individual, on a case by case basis).

My third experience of Rogers’ system was when I studied for my Diploma in Counselling Psychology and Psychotherapy. During that period, I studied a range of counselling systems, including the person-centred approach (at a time when I was more involved with the rational/cognitive approach – as distinct from my current system of emotive-cognitive embodied narrative therapy).

In this blog, I want to review a couple of elements of the person-centred counselling approach, and to clarify where I differ from that approach.

Carl Rogers and the client’s ‘self-conception’

According to Richard Nelson-Jones[1], person-centred counselling gives first priority to the idea of the client as the possessor of something called “a subjective self-concept”. This is equivalent to the ‘ego’ (or the ‘I’, or ‘sense of self’) in Freudian and neo-Freudian psychotherapy.

Nelson-Jones, Theory and practice of counselling and therapyFor Carl Rogers, the creator of person-centred counselling, the subjective self-concept, when it’s psychologically healthy, is a result of the ways in which the individual perceives and defines themselves. By contrast, when they internalize the values of others, this is seen by Rogers as a ‘distorted sense of self’, which is psychologically unhealthy. This perspective of Rogers’ is reminiscent of Jean Piaget’s view of the individual as essentially capable of autonomous activity from birth, with an urge (which Rogers calls the ‘actualizing tendency’) to explore the world.  But this is completely unrealistic, which is why Piaget’s perspective was eventually replaced (for most educational psychologists) by that of Vygotsky, who recognized the role of ‘instruction’, and other socializing influences, upon the shape taken by the developing child.

Rogers’ mistake was to think that a child could be independent of its parents’ influences – which it cannot be. Every child comes into existence, mentally, as a result of having parents (or parent substitutes) who relate to it and educate/socialize it.  In E-CENT[2] counselling, we see the emergence of the ‘individual self’ as a dialectical (or interactional) process of relationship between the ‘cultural mother’ (initially) and the ‘biological baby’, out of which comes a sense of socialized identity. (See my eBook on The Emergent Individual).

~~~

The Emergent Social Individual:

Or how social experience shapes the human body-brain-mind

The emergent social individual, jim byrneBy Dr Jim Byrne

Copyright © Jim Byrne, 2009-2019

The E-CENT perspective sees the relationship of mother-baby as a dialectical (or interactional) one of mutual influence, in which the baby is ‘colonized’ by the mother/carer, and enrolled over time into the mother/carer’s culture, including language and beliefs, scripts, stories, etc.  This dialectic is one between the innate urges of the baby and the cultural and innate and culturally shaped behaviours of the mother.  The overlap between mother and baby gives rise to the ‘ego space’ in which the identity and habits of the baby take shape.  And in that ego space, a self-identity appears as an emergent phenomenon, based on our felt sense of being a body (the core self) and also on our conscious and non-conscious stories about who we are and where we have been, who has related to us, and how: (the autobiographical self).

Learn more about this book.***

E-Book version only available at the moment.***

~~~

The baby is always a social-baby

For Rogers – unrealistically – the baby has a capacity to engage in ‘the organism’s own valuing system’, which can produce elements of self-conception, which are independent of the values of mother and father and others.  But this proves to be a completely unrealistic idea. Every baby is shaped by its early social environment.

Of course there is a back and forth exchange between the child and the parents, but the parents have a huge power to influence and control the baby and its emerging values and behaviours; while the baby has a limited capacity to influence the parents’ values and behaviours.

And, of course the child does go through a set of biologized stages of development – such as the ‘terrible-twos’; moving towards peer influence and away from parent influences; then puberty; and eventually leaving home; etc.  But the social environment bears down heavily upon all of those developments, and produces a ‘synthesis’ of ‘individual/social being’, or ‘socialized selfhood’.

The individual is always connected to a social environment, both internally (in memory) and externally, in present time relationships (at home and in work, business, etc.), and in terms of cultural rules, expectations and social possibilities.

There is no place for a ‘pure individual’ (or pure ‘self-conception’) to emerge or to stand in the real world. We are social beings from first to last.  From soon after birth until the last breath is drawn! We live inside of social stories.

~~~

Processing Client Stories in Counselling and Psychotherapy:

How to think about and analyze client narratives

Processing client stories in counselling and therapy, jim byrne.JPGDr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

The Institute for E-CENT Publications – 2019

Copyright © Jim Byrne, 2019. All rights reserved.

Of all the systems of counselling and therapy, the main ones that pay attention to the body of the client include Gestalt Therapy, and my own system of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (or E-CENT for short).

In E-CENT counselling, when a client arrives to see us, we see a body-brain-mind-environment-whole enter our room.  We agree that this person will begin by telling us a story about their current difficulties; but we recognize that this story is affected, for better or worse, by the quality and duration of their recent sleep patterns; their diet (including caffeine, alcohol, sugary foods, and trans-fats in junk food); and whether or not they do regular physical exercise; and other bodily factors.

However, in this book, we will mainly focus upon the client’s story or narrative; and perhaps remind ourselves occasionally that this story is being told by a physical body-brain-mind which is dependent for optimal functioning upon such factors as diet, exercise, sleep, and so on. We will focus upon the question of the status of autobiographical narratives; and how to analyze the stories our clients tell us.

Available as an eBook only.***

Learn more about this book.***

~~~

Forcing the client to therapize themselves

Right-brain communicationBecause Carl Rogers didn’t understand the inescapably social nature of the so-called ‘individual’, he created a system of counselling in which the client is left to ‘self-manage’ their therapeutic journey, with the counsellor providing nothing but a ‘mirror’ and ‘sounding board’, both of which provide essentially or primarily non-verbal feedback under the false banner of being ‘a facilitating environment’!

What was Rogers’ justification for creating and practicing such a passive form of counselling? According to Richard Nelson-Jones[3], Rogers believed that it was the quality of the interpersonal encounter with the client that was the really important element in producing a healing/growing/liberating effect on the client.  However, the nature of the interpersonal environment produced by person-centred counselling is largely right-brain to right-brain nonverbal communication.  This is helpful, and potentially healing, up to a point. (See Daniel Hill’s book on Affect Regulation Theory)[4]. However, human relational encounters normally rely upon both left-brain (language-based) communication and right-brain (non-verbal) communication.  And Rogers discounts the value of left-brain, language based communication, because, back in 1940, he had a bee in his bonnet about how mainstream counselling was ‘too directive’!  (It seems to me that Rogers system is too passive, and Albert Ellis’s system is too directive; which is why we have developed a ‘middle way’, in the form of E-CENT counselling.***)

The power of social pressure

Carl RogersParadoxically, Rogers did understand the power of social pressures and influences upon the individual, outside of the therapy room. Indeed, in an article in 1940, he pointed out that if an individual was facing too many adverse social factors (pressures and restraints), then therapy was unlikely to work, because what the person needed was “a radical change of conditions”. (Cohen, 1997, pages 93-94)[5]. (There is, of course, a lot of truth in this insight, as we have seen in the huge increase in mental illness – depression, anxiety and more extreme conditions – since the advent of neoliberal economic policies, introduced by Thatcher and Reagan, produced huge social and economic problems based on inequality and insecurity[6].)

However, the fact that some (or perhaps most) of my clients may be facing intractable social pressures outside of the counselling room, in their daily lives, does not justify me in declining to engage my left-brain, and linguistic communication, during my counselling sessions with them. It is, after all, normal for human beings to utilize both their left and right brains: their language and their feelings, in all forms of human communication. So it seems perverse for person-centred counsellors to exclude meaningful, language-based, left-brain communications when dealing with their clients.

The E-CENT approach to counselling communication

ecent logos 3The model of communication that I utilize in my emotive-cognitive, embodied narrative therapy work is similar to that described by Stephen Covey[7] as follows:

Habit No.5: “First seek to understand (the other person); and then to be understood (by them)”.

Carl Rogers includes the first part of this habit or principle; but he excludes the second; and thus it is not true or full communication that he advocates or uses with his clients.

Here is a little more detail about Covey’s Habit 5:

5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood

Use empathic listening to genuinely understand a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, and positive problem solving.

The Habit 5 is greatly embraced in the Greek philosophy represented by 3 words:

1) Ethos – your personal credibility. It’s the trust that you inspire, your Emotional Bank Account.

2) Pathos is the empathic side — it’s the alignment with the emotional trust of another person’s communication.

3) Logos is the logic — the reasoning part of the presentation.

The order is important: ethos, pathos, logos — your character, and your relationships, and then the logic of your case or argument.

~~~

What Rogers omits, from this model, is the Logos, or Logic; the reasoning process.

~~~

The centrality of two-way communication

When a client seeks my help, I put a lot of time and energy into understanding their understanding of their problem.

Then I put a lot of effort into helping them to understand my understanding of their understanding (of the nature of their problem[s]).

None of this is about hard-and-fast concrete facts; but rather of my story about their story about their experiences.

And out of this dialogue, it often happens that I influence them more than they influence me – which is the right way around for a therapy encounter. Since they are very often struggling with problems of which they have only recently become conscious; and since I’ve been studying and consciously wrestling with similar problems for decades, it would be perverse of me not to seek to influence their undeveloped understanding with my tried, tested and developed understanding.

Rogers reason for non-directive counsellingRogers thought that therapy was ‘too directive’ and, as a reaction against it, he developed a completely non-directive system of therapy (which does not involve fully-human communication – as explained above). But he was wrong to think that a non-directive form of therapy would ‘liberate’ the ‘inner self’ of the client, because the ‘inner self’ of the client is precisely the ‘socialized self’ which carries the wounds that need to be healed.

Non-directive therapy neglects the responsibility of the therapist to re-parent, or re-educate, the client, using left and right brain engagement. (See Hill, 2015).

~~~

The E-CENT approach to therapy

So what does Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT) offer instead of the non-directive listening of Person-centred therapy?Front cover Lifestyle Counselling

In my book on Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person***, I describe my perceptions or anticipations of every new client as follows:

  1. I do not know who this client will turn out to be; or how complex their case might be; or how I should begin to think about them. I have to wipe my mind as clear as possible of preconceptions, which, of course, is an impossibility for a human being. (Our preconceptions reside at the non-conscious level, and we most often do not know what they are! And without our preconceptions we would be gaga! We would literally not know what anything was).
  2. This client will be a body-brain-mind, linked to a familial social environment (in the past) and a set of relationships (in the present).
  3. They will be subject to a range of stressors in their daily life, and those stressors will be managed by a set of coping strategies (good and bad – resulting from the degree to which their emotions are habitually regulated or dysregulated [where dysregulated means over-aroused or under-aroused).
  4. This client will have been on a long journey through space-time, sometimes learning something new, and often repeating the habitual patterns of their past experience/conditioning. They will be aware of some of their emotional pain, and unaware of much of it.
  5. This client will have some kind of problem, or problems, for which I have been identified as an aid to the solution.
  6. This client will come in and tell me a story; and another story; and another; and will want me to make sense of those stories; so they can escape from some pain or other. And that is part of my job. But a more immediate, and important part may be to be a ‘secure base’for them[8] – to re-parent them.
  7. This client may or may not be aware that their body and mind are one: a body-mind. They may not realize that, to have a calm and happy mind, they need to eat a healthy, balanced diet; exercise regularly; manage their sleep cycle; drink enough water; process their daily experiences consciously (and especially the difficult bits [preferably in writing, in a journal]); have a good balance of work, rest and play; be assertive in their communications with their significant others; have good quality social connections; and so on.
  8. This client may have heard of ‘the talking cure’, and believe that all we have to do is exchange some statements, and then I will say ‘Take up thy bed and walk!’ And they will be healed.

They may not know that the solution to their problems is most likely going to involve them taking more responsibility for the state of their life; being more self-disciplined; learning to manage the ‘shadow side’ of their mind (or ‘bad wolf’ state); learning to manage their own emotions; manage their own relationships better; manage their physical health, in terms of diet, exercise, sleep, relaxation, stress, and so on; and to manage their minds also. Clearly, they are not going to realize any of these necessary developmental challenges if all I do is LISTEN!

For more information about this radically new approach to helping people with bio-psycho-social problems of everyday living, please see my book on Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person***.

~~~

Finale

Dr Jim's office2Clearly, Carl Rogers had a very simplistic model of the human body-brain-mind-environment which we call ‘a counselling client’. To help a client to resolve their emotional, behavioural and relationship problems is normally going to take a whole lot more than listening, listening, listening!

The bottom line of my approach to counselling, therapy and coaching is this: I occupy the central ground between the extremes of Carl Rogers’ non-directive approach, and Albert Ellis’s Extreme Stoical and overly-directive REBT.***

~~~

That’s all for now.

cropped-abc-coaching-counselling-charles-2019.jpgBest wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

drjwbyrne@gmail.com

~~~

Endnotes

[1] Nelson-Jones, R. (2001) Theory and Practice of Counselling and Therapy.  Third edition.  London: Continuum.

[2] E-CENT = Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy, developed by Jim Byrne, with the support of Renata Taylor-Byrne.

[3] Nelson Jones (2001); page 98.

[4] Hill, D. (2015) Affect Regulation Theory: A clinical model.  New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.

[5] Cohen, D. (1997) Carl Rogers: A critical biography. London: Constable.

[6] Wilkinson, R. and Pickett, K. (2010) The Spirit Level: Why equality is better for everybody.  London: Penguin Books.

And, as explained by Dr Oliver James:

“Nearly ten years ago, in my book Britain on the Couch, I pointed out that a twenty-five-year-old American is (depending on which studies you believe) between three and ten times more likely to be suffering depression today than in 1950. … In the case of British people, nearly one-quarter suffered from emotional distress … in the past twelve months, and there is strong evidence that a further one-quarter of us are on the verge thereof.  … (M)uch of this increase in angst occurred after the 1970’s and in English-speaking nations”.  People’s beliefs have not changed so much over that time.  This is evidence of the social-economic impact of the post-Thatcher/Reagan neo-liberal economic policies!

Oliver James (2007) Affluenza: How to be successful and stay sane.  Page xvi-xvii.

~~~

[7] Covey, S.R. (1999) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the character ethic. London: Simon and Schuster.

[8] In attachment theory, a child is seen to use his/her mother (or main carer) as a secure base from which to explore its environment, and to play.  If the child’s stress level rises, or s/he becomes anxious, s/he can scurry back to mother for a feeling of being in a sensitive and responsive relationship of care and reassurance.  This reassurance can also be sought and given nonverbally from a distance.  And in counselling and therapy, that role of being sensitive and caring, and reassuring the client, is also seen as providing a new form of secure base from which the client can explore difficult and challenging memories and feelings.

~~~

Lifestyle factors complicate counselling and therapy assessments

Blog Post No. 174

By Dr Jim Byrne

8th September 2018

~~~

Dr Jim’s Blog: “What’s wrong with my counselling client?” Lifestyle factors complicate counselling-psychological assessments…

 Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, September 2018

~~~

Introduction

Emotions-and-survivalMany of the human tragedies that clients bring to our counselling and psychology consulting rooms have pure social-psychological roots. These include:

– childhood abuse or neglect;

– traumatic experiences later on;

– stress and strain of difficult lives;

– relationship problems;

– and the normal human responses to losses, failures, threats, dangers, frustrations and insults; and so on.

We also see our fair share of

– attachment problems;

– personality distortions (or mal-adaptations to parents and others);

– and retreats from an intolerable reality.

New complications

DrJimCounselling002But all of this is now complicated by the existence of

– widespread consumption of junk food;

– disruption of normal sleep patterns by economic stress and new technologies which destroy melatonin;

– plus adoration of sedentary lifestyles;

– and various other lifestyle factors that

# precipitate problems of anger, anxiety and/or depression, in their own right; or

# magnify emotional disturbances that have psychological roots.

Body-and-mind

Because of this changed reality, which has come upon us in the past couple of decades, in the main, we now need to be able to spot the contribution of lifestyle factors to emotional and behavioural disturbances which may or may not be otherwise psycho social in origin.

SOR-model3

Our solution

The Lifestyle Counselling Book

We have done a lot of research on the multiple sources of human disturbance; and compiled that in a book, titled Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person: Or how to integrate nutritional insights, exercise and sleep coaching into talk therapy.

We have also written a page of information about these Lifestyle Counselling problems, abstracted from our book, which you can find by clicking the following link: https://abc-counselling.org/counselling-the-whole-person/

~~~

This book, like all our other books, is available via Amazon outlets, all over the world, as both a high quality paperback and as a downloadable Kindle eBook.

A Kindle dBooks imagePS: If you want to see the kind of range of ideas that I write about, please go to Books about Emotive-Cognitive Therapy (E-CENT).***

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone: 44 1422 843 629

~~~

diet and exercise links to mental health

Blog Post No. 173

By Dr Jim Byrne

8th September 2018

~~~

Dr Jim’s Blog: Understanding the links between anger, anxiety and depression – on the one hand – and nutrition and physical activity – on the other…

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, September 2018

~~~

Introduction

drjim-counsellor9Renata and I did a lot of research and reflection on the subject of the impact of diet and exercise upon mental health and emotional wellbeing. Nata-Lifestyle-coach92

We did this work because we wanted to consolidate and expand our pre-existing level of understanding of the part that nutrition and exercise play in the emotional well-being of our coaching and counselling clients, so that we can help them as much as possible; and also to inform a wider audience of a range of helpful research studies.

Our overall aim is to put an end to the false assumption that the body and mind are separate entities, which can be treated in isolation from each other (by medicine, on the one hand, and by psychotherapy on the other).

The complexity of human body-minds

Human beings are very complex; indeed the most complex entities in the known universe.  But that does not mean we cannot hope to come to understand ourselves better than we currently do.

There are, for example, some identifiable factors which contribute to the makeup of human personality; and there is now a good deal of research which needs to be added to the psychological model of the human being.

Holistic SOR model

We can learn to better understand our body-brain-mind interactions with our social environments, and this can enable us to understand ourselves and our clients, and to help them, and ourselves, more effectively.

For examples:

– we are affected (emotionally and physically) by our diets;

– the amount of exercise we do;

– our self-talk (or ‘inner dialogue’);

– our sleep patterns;

– our family of origin;

– and all the patterns of behaviour we observed and experienced in our development;

– plus our current relationships, and environmental circumstances: e.g. our housing accommodation; the educational opportunities we had; our social class position; and our opportunities for employment (or earning a living).

Implications

Diet,exercise book coverSince expanding our understanding of this complexity of human functioning, we have developed new approaches to perceiving our clients; and assessing the complex nature of their presenting problems in the consulting room.

We have also produced a page of information on this research, and the book that resulted from it: How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression: Using nutrition and physical activity.

You can find our page of information about this book and this research by clicking the following link: https://abc-counselling.org/diet-exercise-mental-health

~~~

A Kindle dBooks imagePS: If you want to see the kind of range of ideas that I write about, please go to Books about Emotive-Cognitive Therapy (E-CENT).***

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone: 44 1422 843 629

~~~

Lifestyle counselling resources available in eBook format

Sunday 2nd September

Blog post

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: Lifestyle counselling resources are now being made available in low-cost eBook format via Kindle

~~~

Resources for counsellors and psychotherapists – and for self-help enthusiasts

The following resources are now available in low-cost, Kindle eBook format:

The Lifestyle Counselling Book

Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person: Or how to integrate nutritional insights, physical exercise and sleep coaching into talk therapy,

By Dr Jim Byrne with Renata Taylor-Byrne.

Available here: https://abc-counselling.org/counselling-the-whole-person/

~~~

 

 

How to control your anger, anxiety and depression, using nutrition and physical exercise,

by Renata Taylor-Byrne and Jim Byrne.

Available here: https://abc-counselling.org/diet-exercise-mental-health/

~~~

Writing Theapy book coverHow to Write a New Life for Yourself,

by Dr Jim Byrne

(with Renata Taylor-Byrne).

Available here:

https://abc-counselling.org/how-to-write-a-new-life-for-yourself/

~~~

These three books have proved very popular with counsellors and psychologists on LinkedIn, and they are selling in significant numbers.

DrJimCounselling002It seems there is an appetite for radical change abroad in the world of counselling and psychotherapy at the moment, and people are ready to explore new ideas.  In particular, the relationship between the body and mind (the body-mind connection); the problems of sedentary lifestyle and inadequate nutrition; plus inadequate sleep; and how to process our own experiences in a journal.

All of these developments are very encouraging for the future health of our counsellors and therapists, and for their clients!

~~~

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: jim dot byrne at abc-counselling dot com

~~~

Freud, sex, literature, Descartes, and the body-brain-mind-environment-complexity

Blog Post No. 170

By Dr Jim Byrne

23rd July 2018

~~~

Dr Jim’s Blog: Freud, sex, literature, Descartes, and the body-brain-mind-environment-complexity!

~~~

Part Two: More on ‘What are the linkages between psychology and psychotherapy, on the one hand, and literature, on the other’?

~~~

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, July 2018

~~~

Introduction

Books on emotional intelligence.JPGRecently, I’ve been blogging about some of the important linkages, or overlaps, between psychology, on the one hand, and literature, on the other.

For examples: I have written about:

(1) Some of the books that helped to grow my emotional intelligence; or to help me to ‘complete’ (or process) some early, traumatic experience;

(2) My own semi-autobiographical novel/story about the life of Daniel O’Beeve – and how this is legitimate psychotherapy for the reader, as well as the writer;

(3) How to “write a new life for yourself” – in the form of a new paperback book about a system of psychotherapy, which I have developed over a number of years.

(4) How psychological insights seep into literature; and how literature in turn influences, or humanizes, psychology and psychotherapy.

Today, I want to describe some experiences with literature that I’ve had over the past couple of days.

Visiting bookshops in Bradford

Julian Barnes, Through the WindowTwo days ago – on Saturday 21st July – Renata and I took some time out and went to Bradford for lunch, and to take a look around the shops, including two bookshops and the main DVD/movie outlet (HMV, in the new arcade).

In Waterstones’ bookshop, towards the end of our visit, I was looking for something which would help me to reflect some more upon the linkages between psychology and literature.

There was nothing of any relevance in the Psychology section.

Then I went looking for a Literature section.  The best I could find were two adjacent book cases, one on Poetry, and one on Drama.  (Bradford is not a particularly big city).

In the drama section, there were a few books on literature, including one by Julian Barnes: Through the Window – Seventeen essays (and one short story); London; Vintage Books; 2012.

The blurb on the back of this book suggested it was exactly what I was seeking.  It began like this: “Novels tell us the most truth about life…”

I bought it, and brought it home, and dived into the Preface, which describes ‘a Sempé cartoon’, which shows three sections of a bookshop.  On the left, the Philosophy section; on the right, the History section; and in the middle, a window that looks out at a man and a woman who are approaching each other from roughly the locations of those two sections, and who are inevitably (and accidentally) going to meet in front of the middle section, which is the Fiction section.

For Julian Barnes, this cartoon describes his own beliefs about the central role of fiction in our lives.

“Fiction, more than any other written form, explains and expands life”, he writes, with great assurance.  “Biology, of course, also explains life; so do biography and biochemistry and biophysics and biomechanics and biopsychology.  But all the biosciences yield no biofiction.  Novels tell us the most truth about life: what it is, how we live it, what it might be for, how we enjoy and value it, how it goes wrong, and how we lose it.  Novels speak to and from the mind, the heart, the eye, the genitals, the skin; the conscious and the subconscious.  What it is to be an individual, what it means to be part of a society. What it means to be alone.  …” Etcetera.

However, it could be objected that, while the various sciences instruct, and suggest what must be done and not done, the literary arts merely create visceral and emotive sensations, which must link up with our socialization in general – that is to say, our previous learning – to help us to decide what to do with this new literary information; these insights; or newly forming feelings and thoughts.

Indeed, it seems to me that if all we had was literature, then we would be “weaving without weft” – or trying to make a fabric without those long strings, from one end of the loom to the other, through which the shuttle passes.  We would be trying to make sense of fictions in the absence of the insights we gain from the various sciences, and the ruminations of the various philosophers.

However, the reverse is also true.  Without literature and art, the sciences would provide us with long strings of facts, set up on our mental looms, but with no means of weaving a living fabric of warmth and depth and emotional meaning.

~~~

An example from fiction

John-Fowles-MantissaWhat I omitted from my story above is this: Before going to Waterstones’, we had visited the Oxfam shop, which has a vast floor dedicated to second-hand books, included the abandoned books of waves of undergraduates and postgraduates from the local universities: yards of books on Psychology, philosophy, health studies, and so on.  And then there’s History, and lots of novels – many of the pulp variety – and some classics.

During this visit, I did look at psychology, and health studies, and personal development; but I began by looking for a novel which might help me to elucidate some of the points I’ve been exploring in these blog posts.  And I did find one.

I found Mantissa, by John Fowles. This author’s name jumped out at me because I have read five of his nine books – but I had never come across Mantissa.

So I opened it, and what should leap off the page at me, but a quotation by René Descartes.  This had an electrifying effect upon me, because I have been arguing – in earlier blog posts in this series – that philosophies, like Descartes’ misleading ‘cogito’ (“I think therefore I am”), got into psychology; and that, whatever arises within, or gets into, psychology, inevitably finds its way into literature.  And here was a living proof of my assertions.  The particular quote from Descartes, promulgated by John Fowles, on page 5 of Mantissa, included the following conclusion:

“…this I, that is to say the soul by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from the body, is even easier to know than the body, and furthermore would not stop being what it is, even if the body did not exist”.

We know from previous considerations of this ‘cogito’-philosophy of Descartes by generations of philosophers, that it is impossible to sustain his beliefs about the body-mind split.

But the more important consideration is this: Why is John Fowles beginning his novel with this quotation?

Is it his intention to argue that we are souls, separate and apart from our bodies?

Or is he going to try to undermine Descartes’ belief?

Part I (of IV) begins with the suggestion of ‘a consciousness’ surrounded by “a luminous and infinite haze”. And out of this connectivity comes an individual consciousness – a male person, in a bed, looking up at two women; one of whom claims to be his wife, and the other a doctor (of neurology); and the suggestion emerges of ‘loss of personal memory’.  The ‘wife’ departs, and a nurse arrives to join the doctor, and it unfolds that the treatment for this poor man (Mr Green’s) mental problem is a physical therapy.  (The theory, explicitly stated by the doctor, is that there is a link between the genitals and the personal sense of remembered self!)

At this point, we can say that Fowles seems to be setting out to refute Descartes view of a separation between mind and body, by treating memory loss via the genitals. (Crazy theory, I know!  But it proves to owe a lot to Freud’s theory of psychosexual stages of human development!)

Fowles’ intention to undermine Descartes seems likely, especially given that the doctor in this story is a neurologist: a specialist in understanding brain-mind functioning. Or the physical brain as the substrate of mind.

Mr Green proves to be resistant to the sexual activities to which he is subjected by the doctor and the nurse, until, at the start of Part II, it emerges that no such reality exists.  There are no physical bodies present! It is all going on in the mind of Mr Green – (who is obviously, ultimately, Mr Fowles!) – who is essentially writing (in his mind) some scenes of pornography.

This is an echo of one of Descartes’ meditations, in which he wonders if he might be just a brain suspended in a vat by an evil demon, and that his brain imagines that it is attached to a body in an external environment.  (I know!  Descartes was a nut!)

(But think about today’s counsellors and psychiatrists.  Most counsellors think of the client as a floating mind!  And most psychiatrists think of the mind-brain as a chemical unit separate and apart from the stresses and strains of its social environment, its philosophy of life, and its personal history of experience!)

Towards the end of Part IV, it becomes obvious that all of the action being described within this narrative, is not actual action, but narrative within narrative; with a magical edge, provide by the presence of the Greek goddess, Erato: (originally introduced as the doctor of neurology!); and the pornographic ravings of a juvenile author (Fowles!)

There is a nod backwards towards Freud in this book; not alone by reducing all human activity to a sexual nightmare; but also these nuggets:

“Now listen closely, Mr Green”. (This is said by the doctor of neurology; who we later learn is the goddess Erato!) “I will try to explain one last time.  Memory is strongly attached to ego”. (NB: Ego is the English-psychoanalyst rendering of Freud’s concept of ‘the I’.)  “Your ego has lost in a conflict with your super-ego”, – (Super-ego is the English-psychoanalyst rendering of Freud’s concept of ‘the Over-I’ [the first instantiation of which is every baby’s mother]).  – “which has decided to repress it – to censor it”. (The concept of repression comes from Freud!) “All nurse and I wish to do is to enlist the aid of the third component of your psyche, the id”. (‘The id’ is the English-psychoanalyst rendering of Freud’s concept of ‘the It’; the ‘thing’ that we are at birth! The ‘whole thing’, body-brain-and-embryonic-mind). “Your id” writes Fowles, through the ethereal person of the doctor/goddess, “is that flaccid member pressed against my posterior.  It is potentially your best friend. And mine as your doctor.  Do you understand what I am saying?” (Page 31 of Mantissa).

So, I think some of my points are being ‘firmed up’ here (if you will pardon my inability to refrain from making a pun at the expense of Fowles and Freud!)  In particular, I think it is safe to say that ideas pass freely between philosophy, psychology and literature.  Each feeds off the other. There are no impermeable boundaries between those domains of thought!

And we have to be awake to this reality for various reasons which I will look at later.  The most obvious one being that fictions find their way into philosophy; and philosophical fictions find their way into psychology; and fictitious aspects of psychology inform counselling and psychotherapy!  And round and round!

~~~

Back to Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes © Alan Edwards
Julian Barnes

Earlier I quoted a very strong argument by Julian Barnes, from the Preface of his book, Through the Window; in which he said: “Novels tell us the most truth about life…”.

However, if you read your texts closely, you will often be rewarded with insights like this: Barnes was inconsistent.

Really? In what way?

Well, just 45 words after the end of his strong claims about novels telling the most truth, we read this statement; the final statement of the Preface:

“The best fiction rarely provides answers; but it does formulate the questions exceptionally well”. (Emphasis added, JWB).

So, if we put his two main ideas together, we get this:

Novels tell us the most truth, but not in the form of answers; only in the form of questions!

Does that make any sense?  No.

Why not?

Because the novel actually presents imaginary scenarios as history. Reading those scenarios – and taking them at face value – the reader finds that certain questions automatically form within their body-brain-mind, based on their socialization; their past experiences; and their current circumstances.

The author cannot control which questions will form in the mind of the reader.

But what is the value of the questions that are thus formed by fictional writing?

The value is huge!  Why?  Because questions are the first and most essential part of what some people call ‘thinking’, but which I call ‘overt, conscious perfinking’ – where ‘perfinking’ means perceiving- feeling- thinking, all in one grasp of the mind.

So, novels impact us, by bringing up new thoughts, and especially questions, which, if we pursue them, may produce dramatic answers that shunt us out of a current reality into a range of new possibilities! In this sense, novels are potentially hugely therapeutic!

For this reason, I recommend novels – the very best novels – my counselling clients; and to my supervisees – counsellors who need to keep growing their hearts and minds; and improving thereby their body-brain-mind-environment-complexity!

~~~

How did the body get into the previous statement?

Heckler-Anatomy-of-change.jpgIt might have been difficult to answer the question – ‘What does the body have to do with reading and/or writing novels?’

Except, while I was scanning the pages of John Fowles’ Mantissa, Renata came over to me and showed me a book she had found: ‘The Anatomy of Change: A way to move through life’s transitions’. This book was written by Richard Strozzi Heckler (1993), a teacher of Aikido (which is a system of Japanese unarmed combat – which I studied briefly at the Dublin Judo Club, in 1991-’62). Heckler’s philosophy of life can be summed up like this:

Renata pointed me at a section on Living in the Body; in which Heckler describes how he was once hired by a juvenile detention centre, where he was to work with difficult juveniles who were violent offenders.  He worked with one, physically huge, and very angry young man who expressed the desire to kill somebody, because he was so angry. Heckler, intuitively, and pragmatically, told this youth that he could show him precisely how to kill somebody.  The youth was hooked, and they began to work on the Aikido pressure points.  But this youth’s physical energies prevented him easily learning what needed to be learned; and so Heckler began to work on his body, to get him to the state where he could master the Aikido pressure points that he wanted to learn. However, through the process of focusing his attention on his own body, and learning to release tensions, this youth lost his interest in killing anybody. He was beginning to live in his body; and he realized it was more interesting to find out about himself than to kill anybody.

Moving a muscle can change a thought, and/or an emotion.  Physical training is profoundly stress reducing.  It teaches physical self-confidence.  And, the softening of ‘body armouring’ can release the person’s feelings, intuitions, and compassion, and, according to Heckler, it can heal our physical and emotional wounds.  (That certainly lines up with my own experience at the Dublin Judo Club [which was actually called the Irish Judo Association at the point when I joined]).  Our experiences shape our body-brain-mind; and we can begin to loosen and reframe our most troubling experiences by working from the body-side of our body-brain-mind, or from the mind-side of our body-brain-mind.

Conclusion

honetpie
Dr Jim Byrne

Reading a novel on the way to and from your equivalent of the Judo Club will double your progress in healing your body-brain-mind; and seeing a good, wise, broadminded counsellor, at some point each week, will also help!

~~~

PS: If you want to see the kind of range of ideas that I write about, please go to Books about Emotive-Cognitive Therapy (E-CENT).***

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

~~~