I have always been attracted to the fields of psychotherapy and psychology. In 2000, I decided to study a Master’s degree in Integrative Psychotherapy and Counseling at Regent's College in London. It was a fascinating four years in which I was surprised to discover that there are more than 400 different therapeutic approaches. We scratched the surface of most of them and were then largely left to our own devices as to how we wished to practice with our clients. I found value in all of them, some focusing on the feeling of a client and working from there; others tackling thought processes and how to change them; still others dealing primarily with damaging behavior and, of course, analysis of the past.
I was supervised in working with many clients in a variety of settings and within the National Health Service. We had access to an impressive psychology library filled with thousands of specialized books. How complex a human being must be!
One thing I always found most intriguing was the importance of what the client thought had happened in their past and not what had actually happened. For example, someone may think he had a neglectful and uncaring mother and this, of course, creates his present-day reality. In reality, she may have been perfectly loving but this is almost irrelevant. It is only our perception that matters. This puzzled me, yet at the time, I couldn't get a grip on what this actually meant and just how vital this difference was to uncovering the key to mental health.
Throughout my training, there remained some nagging unanswered questions. What is really effective in therapy? What is it that actually facilitates change? Is a person largely condemned to a life of dysfunction if he or she has experienced a traumatic past? Is the best we can hope to achieve simply to manage this dysfunction throughoutour lives?
I was always stunned to watch how some of my clients improved, sometimes dramatically, over the course of therapy, while others didn’t. Was this just hit and miss? What accounted for the successes? I continued to search for clarity, but graduated after working hundreds of client contact hours, and being none the wiser.
What I did experience, though, were what the therapy world refers to as “aha” moments or “moments of meeting” during sessions with clients. These were few and far between but seemed to create the shift that clients were looking for. To me, these were random, and I certainly could not engineer one of these special moments. Yet I always hoped they might occur. They were times where my client and I would almost become one; when out of the blue, something would occur to me and it would be just the right thing that the client needed to hear at that moment I was always astounded. Where did that come from? Did I just say that? How did I make such a connection? One thing I was certain of, though it made no sense to me at the time, was that it had nothing to do with me and something bigger was at play.
I was always a little embarrassed to bring these moments up with my supervisor as there was no technique or thought behind them. They literally came from nowhere. There was no rhyme or reason. No particular theory was being applied. I was certainly aware that I was not keeping to the “'rules” of my psychoanalytic persona, where we were told we needed to be a blank screen bringing nothing of ourselves into the room to ensure that clients could project onto us, and much progress could then be made from analyzing their behavior.
But I knew deep down that the most powerful work was occurring when I was just being myself and having a deep dialogue with my clients. No analyzing and no thoughts about how their current behavior might link to the past. No “active” listening as we had been taught, which would include scrutinizing everything from tone of voice to body language to how clients would relate to me in the session. How powerful was listening without thinking. Surely it couldn't be that simple?
When I was introduced to the Three Principles (Mind, Consciousness and Thought) a few years ago, it all started to make sense and I heaved a sigh of relief. This was it! This is the answer I had been searching for. Why had my professors of psychology, lecturers, deans of faculty, authors of thousands of books, not told me this?
This is psychology's best-kept secret, and what a gem it is. How tragic that the professionals in this field have no idea of the factors at play. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. There are universal principles behind our psychological functioning! Eureka! This was one “aha” moment I would not forget and was set to change the way I worked for good.
Since then, I have indeed totally changed the way I practice therapy with my clients. No theories, no techniques, no pretenses; just me and another human being in a quiet space. What a relief that the content of my clients' thoughts is no longer what's important and therefore does not need to be analyzed or changed. Their relationship to their thinking is what shifts, thereby facilitating true and lasting change. My work is now filled with light-heartedness as well as deep connection and fulfillment. No one is broken, hope is restored, and I have watched miracle after miracle occur.
A couple of clients remain in my mind. A suicidal teenager with an anxiety disorder had been pushed backwards and forwards from doctor to psychiatrist. In just a couple of sessions, he'd already surpassed my own understanding of the Three Principles and walked out with vitality and freedom, passionate to live a new life, one he never dreamed could be possible.
Another client, an overwhelmed mother who had experienced a traumatic birth, was struggling to cope with the challenges of motherhood in the midst of family friction and the demands of work. After just the second session, she felt free and unstuck and remarked that she'd thought it would take years to sort out her problem and couldn't believe how simply listening to something while remaining open could have caused such a change in the way she now experiences her life, with new energy and excitement.
The results I now achieve are certainly a far cry from the previous work I did. There was still value then, but now that I have an increased understanding of what's actually occurring during therapy, it has opened up a whole new world. I now approach my sessions with the certainty that any client who appears in front of me is totally healthy and happy, although they just don't yet know it.
Of course, I can't pretend to know I understand what's really happening. This mysterious, magical process and the way people are able to find their own wisdom and the answers they seek still never ceases to amaze me. What I do know is that change can happen in an instant and that pure mental health really is just a moment away.