A Little Bit Of Background In 1969 I had completed twelve years of post secondary education at the University of Toronto: three years of Arts; four years of Medicine; a one-year general rotating internship; and four years of full-time training in psychiatry in five Toronto psychiatric training centres. They were: The Toronto Psychiatric Hospital, Wellesley Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital, The Clarke Institute of Psychiatry and the University of Toronto Health Services, Division of Psychiatry.
During a senior resident seminar at the end of my training, where I was constantly questioning basic theory, the professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto finally said to me, 'For God's sake, will you stop always trying to re-invent the wheel!'
My response to him then, was exactly the same as it would be today "I can't."
Although I loved psychotherapy and still do, I was deeply disappointed in its seeming lack of healing.
* * * My distrust of psychotherapy came from several directions:
1- It required a vast amount of time;
2- Patients were not changing as deeply or significantly as one might expect; and;
3- Many of the psychiatrists who I knew seemed to me to have a guardedness, a lack of spontaneity and warmth about them which triggered my deep suspicion. I began to sense that healing might require some kind of direct nurturing which the men and women in my profession would have found theoretically unsupportable and, in any case, would have been characterologically unable to deliver.
I began to suspect that psychiatry dwelt in an extraordinarily complex theoretical tower which acted primarily to preserve the safety of the people who practiced it. I came to feel, in fact, that psychiatry is the most sophisticated art of self defence that the world has ever known. The patient is always the object and the psychiatrist is always safely removed, behind an enormous amount of theory.
I remember once at a psychiatric association dance watching the woodenness in the bodies of my colleagues and I reached the conclusion that something in our entire approach to healing was wrong. I had discovered this rigidity of movement in myself and I knew in my heart that it came from neurotic and body armour defenses.
By now I was beginning to learn from what I saw and intuited rather than from the theory I was being taught. The theory seemed irrelevant and seldom connected to the flow of my patients' conversation and pain.
I myself, at that time, after twelve years of post secondary education and two different personal psychotherapy experiences, did not feel healed of my own pain in the way I would have expected, helped to be sure, but not really healed. Finally, as the culmination of all these things, I lifted my eyes above the ground I was standing on and stepped sideways into the world of what has been called 'humanistic psychology', where things were more easy going and experimental.
After Freud's epic contributions to our knowledge of the unconscious, many workers, during the middle part of this century, took important steps forward for the profession:
Carl Rogers had shown that clear reflective statements allow the mind to heal along its own path rather than the paths dictated by psychological theory. The notion of healing as an unfolding of a mind freed of conflict began to replace the notion of healing as insight into sophisticated psychiatric theory.
Fritz Perls, the famous innovator of Gestalt therapy, added to the idea of unfolding by showing that the mind always struggles to complete what is unresolved within it. In short, to form a Gestalt. He gave us an entirely new set of tools for retrieving unconscious material and re-integrating it within the larger body of mental phenomena. The actual experiencing of previously warded-off processes and buried hurts received even more primacy than it had before.
THE CENTRAL PARADOX of all experiential therapy emerged, which is that, when we move to the absolute feeling centre of the most painful and the worst that has ever happened to us, barriers within the mind collapse, the pain is experienced and an emotional completion occurs. Perls did not solve all our problems but he took us on a huge leap in the right direction.
Jacob Moreno, with his psychodrama, added to and built upon the notion of expressing pathology through playing out the parts of ourselves and people in our past.
Alexander Lowen and Ida Rolf, building on Reichs' body armour concepts, began to access early traumatic material through body pain and dysfunction. The notion of touch as a therapeutic tool was born.
Roberto Assagioli injected notions of spirituality into mental health healing.
Eric Berne analyzed communication and found that communicating, in almost every instance, is a manipulation for personal gain.
Perls had already stated that the human personality, with its endless conversation, was the sum total of all the devices we have ever acquired to manipulate our fellow man. This will be important in a few minutes when I talk to you about therapy which fractures and deprives a person of normal conversational defences.
Then onto the scene burst the most significant figure, in my opinion, since Freud. Arthur Janov, working in Los Angeles, expanded upon a very old psychiatric notion and brought it into the middle of the twentieth century in full force. He discovered that if you lie a person down in a darkened sound-proof room, prevent them from talking and ask them to stay with what they feel, defences crumble and early traumatic memory and pain rush to the surface where they are expressed, sometimes quite convulsively. People find, to their amazement, that they come out of these experiences feeling lighter and easier within themselves than they have ever felt in their lives. In short, all childhood pain is trauma to the central nervous system and can be treated as though it were a traumatic neurosis of war, but without the necessity for sodium pentothal as a regressive facilitator. Janov discovered that the royal road to deep unconscious conflict was not only the dream as Freud had stated, but that it was the act of staying with a feeling and not distracting yourself with talk.
Later today I am going to introduce to you for the first time ever, as far as I know, another royal road to the unconscious. There is a new and even more powerful principle which will enable therapists to penetrate defences and help their patients to re-experience unconscious childhood pain. In understanding the intensity of the feelings with which I work in my practice and the necessities which then arise in my work for the handling of such feelings, I believe you will come to realize that what has brought these two complainants here today is not a lack of ethics; it is an error pertaining to this kind of therapy, which I now understand and have corrected.
Janov's technique brought with it serious difficulties which will lead you to understand why we must involve ourselves in practices that will appear unusual, such as the use of full body holding, when certain levels of regression are achieved.
The problem that Janov presented us with was twofold:
1- When defences begin to crumble, the ego, which contains our integrated ability to function, also starts to crumble and we have a potential landslide of disintegration in our patients. People in deep therapy can become seriously disabled for months or years, mired in an ever-deepening circle of pain and dysfunction. It has therefore been imperative to find methods not only to control the disintegration but also to sustain and nurture the child which these powerful regressive techniques lay bare.
2- The therapist must help patients to move through a window of entry into the deeper self, like the astronauts do when they return to earth. The level of therapeutic intensity must not be so profound that it stops the brain from functioning, nor so superficial that no real penetration into the deeper self is achieved. There are many ways to help control the rate, the intensity and the depth of regression.
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