I started to write a description of the methods which I use or have been influenced by, and from there it grew, and grew, to be an overview of a good many of the commonly known types of therapy.
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When it comes to life-wide change and life healing, I know what's real and what works. So I’ve reviewed these various schools of psychotherapy from that perspective. I’ve aimed to be fair, but I’ve not tried to be neutral - this is meant to illustrate my very personal viewpoint. Other people will have completely different opinions! In my view, all schools have something good to offer, but most are on their own only part of the story. And in their world views, even the most famous can be at times just wrong.
Therapy can take place on three levels.
Of course, in real life it's not so clear-cut. But these are a useful rough guide.
Different schools of psychotherapy target one level more than another. CBT and Human Givens features pragmatic tools for level (1). Authentic past life therapy, and Star Sapphire therapy, focuses on levels (2) and (3). Solution-oriented psychotherapy covers level 1 and a surprising amount of level (2). NLP targets level (2) with a few practitioners working with level (3). And so on.
Some forms of psychotherapy, notably CBT, claim to be “research based” or "the only therapy proven to ..." This is impressive language, but can mislead. The therapies which make the strongest such claims are predominantly level (1) only. It's much harder to reduce the unique life-journeys of levels (2) and (3) to the simple fixed protocols needed for research purposes. CBT for example has little to offer for level (2) and its dry, rational outlook doesn't seem to even recognise that level (3) exists. [Back to the top]
I’m a huge fan of the solution-oriented brief therapy school (SOBT). Their premise is simple: you already know how to solve your own problems. SOBT therapists may not even ask you what the problem is; they may never find out! They ask, if you made the first tiny step towards solving it, what would you do? If a miracle occurred and the problem vanished, what is the first step you would take? When you are at your best, what is different? - and in general just step right past the problem and focus on your innate ability to solve it. This is a hugely refreshing change from a century of Western problem-oriented psychology. I use many SOBT techniques, and totally share their view that people have inside them all that they need for happiness.
Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them to become what they are capable of being. Goethe
Strengths as a stand-alone psychotherapy: Very action-oriented; amazing how much SOBT achieves with such simple tools (puts some therapies to shame); especially good in schools, families and other “system” settings; works very well with children; wonderfully respectful, optimistic and empowering philosophy which creates the success of the method; impressive range of application. SOBT is unique in that it is popular both with difficult public-sector clients and as a high-level staff development tool in organisations.
Weaknesses as a stand-alone psychotherapy: Limited access to the unconscious mind; does not work with emotions; reduction in the therapist’s role is in my view excessive and dogmatic; willfully avoids giving the client new tools and information; does not always get to the emotional heart of the matter; wrongly assumes that no problems have hidden roots; in the end too simple for many issues much of the time. Despite all of this, and especially in the public sector, Solution-oriented Therapy is a unique beacon of effectiveness with an empowering vision which deserves the highest respect. [Back to the top]
This material is now on two pages of its own. Please see:
Pioneer US therapist Carl Rogers is one of my heroes, a great therapist and a very beautiful human being. Rogers made the bold and profound step of dropping all techniques and psychological theory from his psychotherapy. Instead, he concentrated on the relationship between the therapist and the client. He maintained that if the therapist
then the client will change and grow. In the 1940's, psychotherapy was still a world in which the expert therapist diagnosed what was wrong with the client, and then told the client how to get better. Rogers trust and respect for his client's self-healing was utterly revolutionary.
Today his work is called the client-centred "approach", not therapy, because of its wide value in all types of relationships, in schools, at work, and in the family. Empathy, warm accepting respect, and genuineness are indeed the bedrock of all relationships.
Rogers worked extensively in education, and would have been appalled by the present emphasis in the UK on testing in schools:
“I believe that the testing of the student's achievements in order to see if he meets some criterion held by the teacher, is directly contrary to the implications of therapy for significant learning.”
Rogers has been highly validated by research which shows that in all forms of therapy, it is the relationship with the therapist which is the most important factor, and that specific techniques are only secondary. I certainly regard it as a foundation of how I work.
Modern psychotherapy owes Rogers a profound debt and I'm sure his work continues to have immense value.
However, techniques do count and the psychotherapy world has moved on. The popular image nowadays of client-centred therapy is of Rogers' minimalist phase, a reaction against psychoanalysis. In this he did nothing except repeat back what the client had said, in slightly different words, to show that he had understood according to these three criteria. (That doesn't sound much, but it was the WAY he repeated things back - he heard underlying nuances on such a deep level and repeated them back with such compassion, respect, and presence - amazing to behold.)
The minimalist phse was a step in his own development, and that of modern therapy. But some therapists, in particular counsellors, still today practice nothing else. To me it is a mistake to cling to a stepping-stone methodology which even Rogers in the end left behind. I get many clients who have had such counselling and they all say the same thing: "I understand where my problems come from, but nothing has changed." So while the way I do things embodies Rogers' three principles, it goes beyond that: I want your everyday life to change. With modern Rogerian minimalist counselling, too often it doesn't.
More coming soon on EFT. But in brief, EFT is a very good method which I use quite a lot. It helps people turn towards their experiences and get into their feelings, it helps them stand back from a situation and make choices, it helps feelings to unfold, and to explore underlying feelings in depth. But I regard it as mostly an excellent and easily-taught combination and systematising of existing elements, rather than something fundamentally new. As such, it is a genuine step forward. (I know EFT afficionados won't agree with me, but that's how I see it.) It is a form of meditation-by-numbers. One really great aspect is that EFT understands the importance of two key things:
In the situations where it applies Family Constellation therapy is one of the most profound and innovative of the new generation of therapies.
All emotions originate in a family context. So issues dealing with the wider meaning of life and life-defining choices, are often best resolved in a family context.
In families, strange things happen.
Suppose a young woman is very much in love. But her lover dies, and she does not grieve for him fully. She then marries another man, and has children - say, a boy. As she loves and holds that tiny baby, the baby on some deep inner level feels mum's grief. And he may very possibly come to feel on a deeply unconscious level that he is the object of that grief, just as he feels that he is the object of her love. And if so, that son may very well have suicidal impulses; he is “entangled” with the lover who died, and feels a tug to follow him into death. The link to the dead lover is completely unconscious, and neither son nor mother will have any awareness of it. The mother has a grief she has buried, the son simply feels suicidal impulses for no reason at all. These can only be healed in a context which includes not just him, not just his parents, but the dead man also. Such entanglements can pass down through more than one generation.
Again, when children have behaviour problems, the real problem often lies elsewhere in the family, and the child is only the “symptom carrier.” (When I work with young people I only do so if one or preferably both parents will come and take part fully in at least the first session, until we find who the problem belongs to.)
There are many schools of family therapy. But in recent years, much attention has focused on the Family Constellation therapy developed by a German, Bert Hellinger. Hellinger’s work includes a profound understanding of the “systemic” factors which affect individuals together with a novel and deep method of doing therapy, based on how a person feels the members of their family stand physically in an open space in relation to each other. (It’s not psychodrama or family sculpting.)
I’m finding find this an extremely powerful, gentle, and rapid way of going to the very heart of a wide variety of of emotional, family health-related issues.
Strengths as a stand-alone psychotherapy: One of the deepest therapies for family-related emotions and family issues (this includes many situations commonly regarded as individual problems.) More than any other therapy on this page, recognises that problems often do not "belong" to an individual, but in fact reflect events which may have happened to grandparents or greatgrandparents. Understands the essential necessity of acceptance better than most therapies, yet also action-oriented. Works excellently also for organisational issues in companies and organisations. Profound vision of human life. Undoubtedly one of the most innovative and powerful therapies.
Weaknesses: Not at all suited to smaller issues or indeed to many purely individual issues - works mainly on a level of hidden family disturbance (though very many issues do in fact have roots in the family). Can need to be integrated with a more pragmatic therapy to provide a complete package of everything which a person needs for change or healing. [Back to the top]
Focusing is another therapy which I have the highest regard for. It teaches you how to tune into your body and sense how you are feeling. (That’s feeling in the sense “I feel restless” rather than “I feel global warming is a significant problem.” It includes all feelings, not just emotions.) It is a wonderful therapy.
Normally, we ignore or over-ride our feelings. But life is the life of the body, and feelings are the truth of the body. So as you tune into your feelings, you are tuning into a deep source of wisdom about how to live. And when you attend to feelings respectfully, they automatically flow through in a healing way. Focusing teaches you how to achieve that.
In fact, all effective therapists who work in any depth work with feelings in this way. It’s proved by research to be a core part of any transformative process. Carl Rogers’ Client-Centred therapy is a first cousin to focusing, and EFT (Emotional Freedom technique) achieves a similar effect. So it’s not original. But Rogers brings to centre stage the therapist’s understanding of the client, so Rogerian work is not a self-help technique. Focusing is the only therapy school to systematically teach in detail this foundational personal development skill.
Strengths as a stand-alone psychotherapy: An excellent therapy and also a self-help tool which can help you move really deep. In harmony with the natural human emotional healing process. A valuable half-way house between therapy and meditation.
Weaknesses as a stand-alone psychotherapy: Not at all action oriented and weak on challenge and honesty. Entirely concerned with the moment-to-moment feeling process to the exclusion of other aspects of change. Lacks a body of wisdom about how emotions interrelate and how they arise from relationships, and no practical psychology for pragmatic change. [Back to the top]
In brief, hypnosis (or trance) is a natural and normal state of consciousness, and we all enter light trance quite commonly – you only have to close your eyes and sit quietly for a light trance to begin. But few explore the deeper states, and these contain some remarkable experiences and access to both forgotten resources and conflicts. See here for hypnosis FAQ, here for hypnosis in the news, and here for a little of the huge amounts of research proving the effectiveness of hypnosis.
While harmless and relaxing, hypnosis is not in itself therapeutic. Hypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis in therapy. Hypnotherapists are flexible in their approach, and may use quite a number of their the methods on this page, empowered by hypnosis. When they use Freudian free association to discover hidden sources of conflict, that is termed hypnoanalysis. More generally, hypnoanalysis applies to any kind of technique exploring the deep subconscious for hidden things. In an easy, relaxed state of dreamy imagination, it is possible to entirely bypass the conscious mind and its prejudices and discover key conflicts inaccessible by other means. I use many such techniques. For more information on hypnosis, click here.
Advantages. Able to work directly with the unconscious mind; routinely surprises clients by finding hidden conflicts and resources which other therapies can’t. Based on what works rather than academic theory; a rich treasury of practical psychology built up over more than a century and a half. Quick and very powerful with all sorts of common problems. Able to easily incorporate the best in other therapies, and through hypnosis, make them even better. Enthusiastic and passionate about life and its possibilities. A good balance between inner process and outer action.
Disadvantages In a way, over-pragmatic - while passionate about life (a huge plus), no overall coherent vision. Much hypnosis marketing gives people the impression that it enables major change without effort, pain, or confronting the real issues. This has but partial truth: with all forms of psychotherapy, some change happens "automagically" ie with little action by the you. But for any but the simplest issues, what you get out of therapy is directly proportional to what you put in. [Back to the top]
Coming soon [Back to the top]
Coming soon [Back to the top]
Life coaching is a vigorously action-oriented personal development tool. It has a great overlap with the spirit of NLP (clearly an influence) and methods such as solution-oriented therapy. It is a parallel evolution with these, but in a workplace setting. It is not really a psychotherapy, but does overlap with therapies and, having a less intimidating image, is thought of an alternative by some people.
Advantages When the situation really is how to stay positive and to achieve goals, it’s a good tool. More than most therapies, understands the value of regular outside support to keep us going in the right direction. Has a coherent vision which is attractive as far as it goes (“you can achieve whatever you want if you go about it right”) but doesn’t go far. Good at the end of other therapy, when the conflicts are cleared away. I’m presently experimenting with short telephone follow-up sessions of a coaching style with good results.
Disadvantages At worst, a shallow Americanist vision of life - all change, change, change, action, action, action and no acceptance, let-go or transcendance. Weak when personal or family issues enter the workplace situation. You can have hidden conflicts which drive you not just to fail to achieve goals, but drive you to want to achieve those goals in the first place. Coaching cannot recognise these.
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The fundamental dynamo behind how I help people is meditation. People in the West don’t understand meditation – even many people who write books about it. Here’s a typical Western misunderstanding, from www.wikipedia.org:
“Meditation describes a state of concentrated attention on some object of thought or awareness.”
That's completely wrong.
What real meditation is, is an understanding. There’s you – your consciousness, your awareness, your spirit – and there’s your experiences: your thoughts, emotions, sensations. People in pain turn away from their experiences. But that makes things worse, not better. Meditation is the understanding that when you turn towards your experiences and allow yourself to experience them, and view them with gentle, neutral, accepting awareness, they become separate from you and they float away. And behind them is peace, joy, profound tranquility. This is the fundamental truth of all life healing.
What's more, when you have some distance from your experiences, you gain the power to choose whether to act on them. For example, when you "feel the fear and do it anyway", that is part of the spirit of meditation.
What's more, thoughts aren’t only the little ripples in the mind which you can calm by sitting for half and hour. "Thoughts" include life-wide emotions and behaviour patterns. So when over a period of weeks or even years, you become aware that you are unconsciously living out a behaviour pattern, and slowly gain awareness until the point where you can choose not to act like that any more, that's absolutely the spirit of meditation.
From this viewpoint, meditation is not a specific calming technique, occasionally handy as an adjunct to therapy. Rather, much of all therapy can be seen as assisted meditation. Some therapies indeed, for example focusing, are directly meditation techniques.
From this viewpoint, the difference between meditation and therapy is that you only go to a therapist when you are unhappy. But the Eastern wisdom is to carry on and on with the journey of meditation, allowing not just painful thoughts, but happy one too to float in and out of the mind, on an ultimate voyage of discovery of "Who am I beyond all thoughts and emotions? Who is the one who feels happy?"
The other difference is that meditation is a self-help method. Many of my clients, if they understood and practiced meditation in this extended sense, would not need to come to see me. [Back to the top]
Human Givens therapy is a rich eclectic toolkit of techniques from various types of therapy which have been validated by academic research. Of all the therapies discussed here, it is with CBT perhaps the one most rooted in theoretical academic psychology. Though its founders call it a "new therapy", I would not call it new in the radical way that Family Constellation therapy is. A considerable amount of the actual techniques seem to be drawn from, or amount to, hypnotherapy, NLP and CBT. What is new, and valuable, is that they have succeeded in placing these tools in the hands of a wide variety of mainstream practitioners who previously used less effective methods.
The Human Givens attitude is that no existing therapy is complete on its own, and that’s right. They have identified underlying principles of abstract psychological theory which they claim underlie successful therapies, and constructed a synthesis. They also emphasise stepping back from specific problems to look broadly at “are you getting your needs met?” Again, that's right. Its founders, Joe Griffin And Ivan Tyrrel, have among other things identified from psychological research a list of obvious human needs which they call "human givens" and have created an integrative synthesis of therapy techniques, based around getting these needs met without the need for much inner exploration. Such exploration they broad-brush largely condemn as "introspection" and to be avoided.
In addition, they take a valuable step beyond CBT by recognising the importance of emotion. But they regard this with sweeping simplification as something always bad and to be got rid of.
So it’s a highly action-oriented storehouse of useful techniques in a clear framework of what works for, basically, Type 1 therapy on my classification above. In that respect it is, as is solution-oriented therapy, a power for good in the world of counselling and social work, where a surprising amount of what is done just does not work at all.
However, I confess to not having the enthusiasm for Human Givens all this might seem to deserve. Partly that is their simplified and hugely incomplete dismissal of introspection and emotions. But there is more. If you read other parts of this guide, you'll know that I am interested in the overall vision of humanity which a therapy school holds. And something, it's hard to put into words, some vibe or poetry about their work stops me falling in love with Human Givens.
One thing is that in their book Griffin and Tyrrell seem to regard the valid way of knowing, from which therapy is to be developed, as theoretical academic research and intellectual argument. But there are other ways of knowing - the heart, the intuition. It deeply troubles me that a form of therapy claiming to liberate the human condition appears to place so little value on the knowing which comes from the heart and the intuition. Of course, these forms of knowing are not valued within university psychology departments (studied yes, but as part of the operation of the department, stamped out.) Yet to me, in therapy these must have primacy. Carl Rogers, Alexander Lowen, Milton Erickson, Virginia Satir, Insoo Kim Berg and Bert Hellinger first developed their therapies from their heart and their intuition, then validated them by research. This feels right to me.
Then, there is to me a quality of exalting the psychologist as expert. In Human Givens, change comes because the expert tells the person to get their needs met and teaches them how to do it. I'm not quoting directly from Griffin and Tyrrell here, but the subtext that to me comes across from their book is: "Psychology knows your needs, psychology can tell you how to get them met." Now of course this has an element truth for any therapy, especially with certain client groups. And yet, and yet. Carl Rogers, or the Solution-oriented school, have made such radical and courageous experiments in making the client the expert in their own lives. This radicalism seems to have passed Human Givens by. In Human Givens it is firmly the therapist who is the expert in the client's life. For me, while there may well be a first stage like this in any therapy, a further message has to be present. This is the subtext to the client, "Look into your own heart and you will find all the answers you need." Personally, I cannot locate this in the book Human Givens. All I can find is intellectual knowledge flowing from academic research into the therapy expert, who then therapises the client. In my belief what the world needs is power returned to the human heart, not to intellectual psychology and not to any expert cadre within society.
Remember, all the appreciations of therapy on this page are just my personal opinion. In everyday application by its practitioners, there is very much which is excellent about the Human Givens approach. In some contexts, Griffin and Tyrrel's work will be a revelation (as is Solution-oriented therapy) and will no doubt benefit many people. All I can say is that just as I aim to inspire others to trust their hearts, I trust my own heart. And, somewhere, somehow, despite all that they have achieved, in reading Griffin and Tyrrel's book, my heart does not fall in love with their work.
NLP is a valuable toolkit with lots of unique plusses, including wide applicability in business life, and a masterful way with words. But as an in-depth life healing tool, it is in my view, like CBT, unaware of its limitations. (Happily while CBT sometimes appears to claim to be the best or only brief therapy, NLP is too smart and graceful to think that.) I should say that this applies to the NLP method as a movement. There are many excellent individual NLP therapists, trainers and writers for whom I have the highest regard and to whom this criticism does not apply.
Technically, NLP is a cognitive-behavioural therapy. This means that you directly change the thoughts in your head without too much concern why you were thinking them in the first place. It is therefore effective in business settings exactly because of what I find its drawback – it can deal with things in an unemotional, cognitive way.
Here’s an example of what I regard as both the strength and weakness of NLP. It relates to jealousy and is from a mass-market book by a well-known author.
Now for rootless obsessive thoughts, this is a good technique - indeed one I use. But it doesn’t begin to heal the emotional roots of true jealousy. First of all, there can be “good” jealousy, a natural protective force in relationships. “Bad” jealousy may have roots where one person secretly feels unlovable, or secretly fears being abandoned, and is actually unconsciously pushing their partner away. Or they may be repeating a pattern of rejection handed down in their family perhaps for generations, or the jealously may represent hidden guilt about a former partner whom the jealous person feels that have abandoned. Facing all this may need real courage and openness to the truth.
“Eliminate jealousy and obsessive thoughts with this simple technique …. If anyone is going to feel jealous, they have to go through three stages. First, they have to make a picture of something they want that they havn’t got. Second, they have to see someone else having it. Third, they have to say to themselves ‘That person has it, I want it and I can’t have it.’
Whenever a picture that makes you jealous comes into your mind, immediately turn up the brightness up and up and up until it whites out. … If you repeat this process over and over again, it automates to the point where it is almost impossible to think of the image any more.”
So the whiteout method is quick and simple. Sometimes it is all that needed, for example for a jealousy which is no more than a shallow habit of thought. But for true emotional jealousy, it is only a sticking plaster.
Strengths as a stand-alone psychotherapy: Shares with SOBT an emphasis on resources, not problems. Action-oriented, with a good balance of inner process with action. Emphasises that you are in the driving seat of your life, and that quite a few thoughts can be changed ever so quickly. At its best, uniquely precise about the micro-details of how the mind works internally - NLP has no equal for this. Many ingenious and clever techniques including the very successful “rewind” technique for phobias and trauma. Excellent with words, and applicable in sales and business. Attractive coherent vision of life, but like coaching, this is incomplete.
Weaknesses as a stand-alone psychotherapy: All that skill with words leads to unfounded hype in much NLP advertising. (As a rule of thumb, divide NLP advertising by five!) Can be superficial and quick-fix. To some extent depends on buying into the whole NLP values system. Vision is Americanist and is too oriented to change and excellence and only partly understands acceptance, let-go and dis-identification. Cannot deal with life and death issues. [Back to the top]
Technically, this is a branch of hypnoanalysis. In hypnosis, many people have experiences which have the subjective quality of being “before everything – before I was born.” I am open to the possibility that these may reflect historical events, and I know personally therapists who have evidence for this. I don't, and it doesn’t much interest me. The healing which results is real, and that is what counts. When someone contacts a past life experience, typically a major change in their life results.
I do regard some past life memories as "true past lives" - they have a clear, distinctive quality and are often spine-tingling to encounter. Others, while also profoundly healing, strike me as being family memories from the first months of life, before the brain is fully developed. While not "before birth," they are in the realest sense, "before everything - before 'I' came into existence." Others are generational memories which happened to grandparents or great-grandparents.
I don’t normally start by looking for past lives, but wait until they come up naturally. Otherwise, you risk getting one of two things:
That said, it is also true that often the first past life to come up contains innocent suffering and is not the one containing the karmic choices. It may take some time before the root past lives, where you can re-choose your destiny, emerge. Contrary to almost universal belief, there is commonly more than one of these. That doesn't make sense, but there it is.
An exception to not starting with past lives is that sometimes a person will come into the room and carry a past life with them – the whole room fills with a certain vibe. One client comes to mind who as he spoke of unrelated matters, filled the whole room with a vivid impression of being a prisoner in solitary confinement. He was surprised when I suggested past life work as the starting point, but agreed, and we resolved many things very rapidly.
If you are sceptical about past lives or spirit releasement, I offer a quotation from someone who we think of as a scientist, but who was also a great modern mystic, Albert Einstein. He's referring to the time when radio waves were first discovered, and were laughed at as self-evidently ridiculous:
Do you remember how electrical currents and "unseen waves" were laughed at? [Our] knowledge about man is still in its infancy.
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This is a lesser-known cousin of past life work. In deep trance, some people have the experience of thoughtforms with a subjective quality of “not my thought – belongs to someone else.” Together we ask the thoughtforms to leave, which they always do, and the person feels a great sense of liberation and clarity for life to move forward. In California these thoughtforms are regarded as being ghosts and “entities.” But that’s California. For me it’s like asking if past lives are real; who knows? who cares? – the healing is real.
It's all a bit weird, and people are reassured to know that this is really quite common and not in any way a sign of madness. After all, if you really look, a whole bunch of the thoughts which feel like “my thoughts” aren’t really ours at all, but come from the culture of the age we live in or from what our parents thought. So it is normal to harbour thoughts which are in truth not our own.
Believe me, I'm not some kind of Californian weirdo - I wouldn't choose to go looking for ghosts and entities. I first came across this work on a training course in California, and assumed that this was one of those things that only happen in America. (For example, psychiatrically, multiple personality disorder is overwhelmingly a US phenomenon.) I was quite surprised to find this is not uncommon in this country.
This situation is commonest in emergency workers such as police, firemen and paramedics who start to get dragged down by painful situations they have witnessed. It also occurs in teenagers who listen to too much satanic rock music. And it features in addictions, sometimes even ones as commonplace as smoking. It can happen (rarely) that someone in trance experiences they smoke because "someone else is smoking through me" and when we ask that other "someone" to leave, the person can finally quit smoking through normal methods. Yes, it is strange. But pragmatically, it works. [Back to the top]
The ship which remains in the harbour is always safe. But is that what ships are for?
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