Healing the “I”

Posted by on Feb 23, 2007 in Uncategorized | No Comments


I don’t think it’s really much to do with me and the HERD but there seems to be both an ever increasing interest in I and We and the relationship between them. Particularly in that growth market of personal development, healing and (yipee!) psychotherapy.

On Tuesday Madeleine Bunting summoned up Oliver James and Richard Layard in her piece on “the politics of well-being” to point up how the social connections and relationships that used to hold us safer, as we wandered through life’s byways are now undervalued and even somewhat stigmatised.

Yesterday, the family therapy movement struck back in the same newspaper: Peter Stratton pointed out that while the diagnoses was correct, being based on We, the prescription (the dreaded CBT) was largely I-based. Family therapy sees individuals as part of a co-created and dynamic family system and would prescribe much more a We-solution. Which is a good point, but only part way there…

Then again today, Darian Leader pops up to plug his book (“Why people get ill” tells you the angle) which looks again at the connection between the mind and sickly body. And in doing so, he too has a good go at the superficiality and (thus lack of real efficacy) of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (a competitive “I” methodology to Leader’s preferred long and deep psychoanalytic stuff).


Lots of heat, lots of passion but how much light is generated here, do you think? Apart from telling us something about psychotherapists. There’s nothing like a psychotherapist cat fight to help you see how partial the truths of the whole lot of them are.

The answer – as my friend Tania pointed out over coffee today – lies somewhere between all of us. Because it is our lives with others – past, present, future, real and imagined – that shape and contextualise our individual behaviours. Trying to shape one separate from these influential others is unlikely to be successful. Trying to shape it by the individual’s thinking and talking is also unlikely to bring about the kind of change we seek (because most behaviour is not thinking-driven and is always done in the real or imagined presence and context of others…)

No wonder the longer-deeper school of psychoanalysis struggles to demonstrate efficacy of their practice (and this is why they get sooooo angry at the CBTers or Landmark or Hoffman practitioners…who do have rather better evidence – not that either of the latter would stand up to a Cochrane Report, I suspect but don’t know myself).

Anyway it reminds me that story of the great student of Freud and Adler, Viktor Frankl:

“A man is taken to a psychoanalyst because he suffers from headaches, congestion in the head, and ringing in the ears – and the analyst will undoubtedly find many deep, unconscious causes for these symptoms. On his way to the appointment, however, the man passes a clothing store and remembers that he needs a new shirt. He enters and asks for a certain brand.

“What size?” asks the sales clerk.
“Fifteen” is the answer.
“I’m sure you need at least a 16”
“Give me a 15 and not questions”
“OK, but don’t be surprised if you suffer from headaches, congestion in the head and ringing in the ears”

Sometimes the answer lies in that individual and sometimes that answer lies deep in that individual. But mostly it doesn’t and by assuming that it does we’re unlikely to solve the problem or change the behaviour as we would like to because we’ll be too busy digging deep. More often than not, the issues lie either in the context that the individual finds themself in or in the way an individual habitually interacts with others…and this can be influenced both by tweaking rules of interaction, challenging habitual responses and laying down new habits (and that can only be done in the real world of Others…. Sometimes (but not as often as Big Pharma would have you believe) a drug can play a major role in shaping brain responses…but often this just covers up other problematic responses).

Happiness, hell, health and hysteria and everything in between is other people. Because that is the nature of human life. Now get on and enjoy the weekend.