Tuesday, April 2, 2013

My golden rule of therapy

I grew up in a family where psychotherapy was the norm. Both my parents where psychologists and psychotherapists. My father was actually a bit of a trail blazer as well and was very much a psychotherapy type of psychologist. Originally psychoanalytic and Rogerian in his approach. In the state where we lived he was one of the first to go out into the world to learn the new psychotherapies being practiced and bring them back to where he worked. Very few, if any other psychologists would do such a thing. 

He was the first psychologist to go into private practice in the city where we lived. And besides what was then called the “Marriage guidance council” (which later became know as Relationships Australia) he started the first private psychotherapy training institute in the state. The Marriage guidance Council was a government funded body which people could go to to get marriage counselling and he was heavily involved in the training of counsellors for that organization.

Rogers  workshop 1965

Here is a photograph of my father at a workshop in Australia with Carl Rogers in 1965. He is in the back row third from right. As you can see he got the other participants to sign it including Carl. Also notice the ratio of men to women. Nowadays it would be the other way around.

The point at hand is I grew up with this and psychotherapy was nothing odd for me like it was for many people. I recall when I was about 17 (still at school) I got into some trouble and my parents suggested I might try a therapy group. So I went along and it was run by two female cotherapists and there were about 6 clients, all young people so it was probably a therapy group for that age group. I recall finding it quite helpful. I never rebelled against therapy or going to a therapists like some teenagers or children can do. 

I then started training as a psychotherapist at about age 22. As many therapists did then (and do now) I did some personal therapy in groups and individual therapy. There was probably a period of about 5 to 10 years when I did a fair bit and I am glad I did. I think I am much less of an uptight and tense person as a result of it. Less of an obsessive thinker and this also has helped me in life.

An uptight obsessive thinker?

There was this period where I did concentrate on my own personal work and then after that I felt less of a need to and that is when I made a golden rule for myself. I never asked anyone about this or even talked to anyone about it but I decided that I would always have a therapist of some kind. There were two reasons for this.

First it is always good to have an outside person who you can reflect with and get their feedback about your thinking and feeling about things at the time. It kind of helps to keep you grounded and realistic. Second, as I was a psychotherapist I discovered it was very easy to forget what it was like for the client. If one is always in the therapists chair one can forget what it is like for the client. I found it was most helpful to be reminded from time to time what it is like sitting in the client’s chair. I found it certainly did help me as a therapist to do this, at least intermittently.

In more recent times this has been done on more of an informal basis as compared to when I was in my 20s. I have a colleague whom I meet with from time to time and every now and then we do a bit of therapy on each other and this satisfies my need for the two reasons I listed above. Interestingly if I look back at my history of personal therapy I notice a pattern. Three therapists stand out in particular, who I think have had the most impact on me and they are all strong willed women. Just an interesting observation.

Co therapy with Mary Goulding 2

But in retrospect I am glad that I spontaneously made my golden rule of therapy for myself. I think it has served me well over the years. Maybe because I grew up in a family where psychotherapy was the norm rather than the abnormal, that helped in making this spontaneous decision.



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