The Mad, Mad World of Psychotherapy
Psychotherapy, the 'talking
cure', is not new. For as long as human beings have eased troubled
minds through verbal communication, psychotherapy has existed in
one form or another.
Since then, psychotherapy has followed a tortuous and often crazy path to the present day where, hopefully, it has found sense.
The Origins of Psychotherapy
Despite modern assertions that psychotherapy and sophisticated psychological understanding are exclusively Western domains, Western orientalists have noted that Sufi literature is full of evidence of profound psychological insight and sophisticated psychotherapeutic procedures. Historical Sufis such as Jalaludin Rumi of Afghanistan and El Ghazali of Persia display psychological understandings which have only recently been paralleled in the west.
In addition, ancient Egyptian and Greek writings dating back 3,500 years and more talk of 'healing through words' and the word counselling was used as early as 1386 in Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale.
Blinded by Terminology
These days, the terms 'counselling' and 'psychotherapy' are often used as if they are different things. But of course both psychotherapy and counselling simply mean helping someone using psychological means. In no other sphere of life, excepting maybe politics and religion, have words and language so confused the essential issues.
Changing metaphors for the mind
It has been noted, for example, by such writers as Frank Tallis (The History of Psychotherapy, Hidden Minds) and Robert Ornstein (The Right Mind, The Evolution of Consciousness, The Healing Brain) that psychological doctrine has often tried to align it self with current technological sophistication, perhaps partly in an attempt to appear more 'scientific.'
So, for example, during the 19th century the technology of hydraulics was all the rage. The metaphor for the mind became to a large extent hydraulic. People talked, and still talk, of 'running out of steam', 'letting off steam' and 'releasing pent up emotion'. Much experimental therapy (particularly in California during the 1970's) focused on the hydraulic metaphor, believing that to truly 'grow' a person had to 'let it all out' and release 'pent up' emotion. Interestingly, recent physical tests of heart and immune function show that releasing extreme anger is no less damaging to the main arteries than 'keeping the anger in.'
Getting In Deep
The metaphor of problems being 'deep rooted' or 'deep seated' really means any explanation of behaviour that is to be found at the level of the unconscious. Freudian and Jungian analysis are classic examples, although these days people often use it to promote psychological problems to higher levels of importance with phrases such as "Oh, I think it runs a little deeper than that!"
After hydraulics came electricity that was, by the early 20th century, becoming a bigger factor in industrialised society. People talked of 'recharging your batteries' and 'being run down.' Psychiatrists at the Tavistock clinic in London routinely electrocuted British survivors of the World war one trench warfare in an attempt to restore their energy levels and ECT electric shock treatment became popular. Ironically electrical psychiatry killed some survivors of the Somme!
Does Not Compute
After World War Two came the computer age. Computers had proved their worth during wartime as code breaking devices and a new metaphor for the human mind was borne. We now talk of 'processing information', 'retrieving memory' and 'crashing'.
Thankfully, the study of the human brain itself has advanced tremendously over the past decade. We now have a direct understanding of how the brain itself works which is unparalleled in history. It is to be hoped that metaphorical reference to current technologies may no longer be necessary in future years.
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