One of the major contrasts among the modalities of psychology developed in the last 50 years, is between the medical model of diagnosis with its pathological focus, and the coaching model which seeks for personal and professional excellence. Many who would hesitate to acknowledge the need for a counsellor or psychotherapist will feel it easier to turn to a life coach, health coach or business coach.
The one implies illness, sickness and weakness, the other a striving and aspiration for personal change. One looks towards some notion of normalcy, the other towards holistic wellness. One offers assistance to go into the deep patterns that unconsciously affect inner lives, the other focuses on promoting excellence in our outer performance. This is not a division of course, but a polarity. with features of each in both.
One feature common to both is the tendency to imply that a therapist will take on the task of guiding you, even if that guidance has the goal of emotional independence and freedom. It is a wide-spread assumption that the therapist is trained to understand your situation and has tools to offer you, to overcome it. While no successful therapy can allow a client to be passive, the general cultural western worldview sees causes and cures coming from without – germs, pills, other people. Although the client may be encouraged to grasp that only they can really change their life situation, there are few therapies which make the individual human being the most significant and powerful agent from the very beginning of the therapeutic process.
Goethean Psychotherapy has some unique features, straddling those of many other therapies while remaining ‘outside the box’ of categories such as drama therapy, inter-personal therapy, psychotherapy, gestalt and any ‘talk’ therapy at all.
The Client is the Authority
Its most significant features are: that the client is seen as the authority and the source of knowledge of their own process, that the client determines the direction of the process, that the therapist gives no interpretations or analysis of what occurs, that a single session can unwrap significant inner complexity, that clients are completely in control and safe from accessing more material than they can handle, that the essence of the process is non-verbal, that clients emerge from one session with an enhanced sense of themselves and, more importantly, with a set of tools which they themselves have created and which constitute an emotional ‘antidote’ to the obsessive or reactionary patterns that they have come to seek help with.
The Client is not Dependent
The effects of the session will wear off, but the tool with which clients will almost certainly have experienced a deep and significant shift in themselves, is theirs to take away. The daily practice of this freely-created pattern, allows a new response rather than a deeply-grooved reaction, to the ‘trigger’ events in their life.
The healing power of the “I am”
The background to this method is Rudolf Steiner’s image of the human being as one in which neither nature nor nurture are the ultimate defining forces in our lives, but the spiritual entity we experience as “I am”. It is through our common experience of “I am” that we recognise one another as human. We are aware that we are aware. We live in a mammal body, but we are not animals. “I am not my body”. When the consciousness of our “I” can penetrate the ’emotional body’ and bring meaning and understanding to it, then we no longer ‘see through a glass darkly’, but become fully present within it.
However, the language of the emotional body is not words, but gesture and sound (“it wasn’t so much what he said as how he said it” expresses this reality very well). That language speaks to us deeply in an imaginative narrative and this leads a client to recognise that language and to respond in kind. The relief of being seen, being nourished and being defended, means that inner children, isolated inner teenagers and wounded inner adults, can play a new part in the whole drama, changing the script from old patterns to new ones.
Steiner refers to ‘unconscious visualizations’, he calls them parasites, that live in our etheric body through past experiences and which are revived in us as an unconscious resonance when we experience others. (see Lectures on Psychosophy)
This is true in all relating of one human being to another – what we experience from the other, resonates in us. We naturally wish to respond with empathy, openness and love and, when that resonance can freely echo in our souls, we can do so generously with the power of Empathy. However, when the resonance activates those ‘unconscious visualizations’ (I shall now refer to them as ‘bubbles’) which live as partly digested experiences from the past, our reactions (however disguised) can express degrees of antipathy such as anger, irritation and impatience.
This method does not explore the past, as conventional psychotherapy and counselling do. It takes the view that, if an uncomfortable resonance of these ‘bubbles’ is happening now, then what is real is what is happening now, not in the past, even though its origins may be there.
The task of the practitioner is not to investigate that past, or invite the client to do so either. Everything that takes place in a session is in present time.
Difficult human encounters are the ones in which emotional resonance of past events, embedded in the ‘habit’ body as these undigested ‘bubbles’, diminish our consciousness producing emotional reactions, outwardly towards the other or inwardly on to ourselves, expressed in the grimace, the ‘standard reply’ or the avoidance. Our ‘I-consciousness’ is clouded and we react.
It is in the nature of the ‘habit’ body to respond to sound and gestures, and the activity of the ’emotional’ body appears within it, into our physical body, through gesture. When our ’emotional’ body resonates, we react and get angry, frustrated or exhausted by repetitive experiences, and we can feel helpless to prevent them, despite seeing how harmful they can be. We can regret them, we can discuss them for hours, but words do not reach the ‘habit’ body where the patterns are embedded. Thoughts, explanations and analysis have limited power and usually no lasting effect. We know this from our broken promises – “I am again so sorry, I really did not mean to, I will try again not to”, etc,
In a therapy session, gesture is used in order for us to become aware of the ‘bubbles’ themselves, not merely these outward symptoms. By creating another gesture which effectively neutralizes the one which arises from the historically-fixed ’bubble’, the gesture and an accompanying sound, often the consonants and vowels that form language, become a self-discovered ‘antidote’. This digests and absorbs the ‘bubbles’ in the way that the healthy assimilation of life’s experiences should have done at the time the events actually took place.
All this is done in full consciousness with wide-awake thinking, no ‘dreaming into’ images.