RechercherRecherche AgendaAgenda



7 juin 2008

Discours de Varsovie Michael Randolph

Michael Randolph

Michael Randolph


May 2008

Un peu d’anglais de temps à autre sur ce site dérouillera votre capacité à vous mouvoir dans la langue de l’autre. Certes en l’occurrence celle du maître mais aussi celle de Goodman ou Yalom, si agréable à savourer dans sa musique originale. En attendant qu’un de nos étudiants nous traduise ce texte le voici donc en VO — six pages c’est pas la mer à boire, pas même le Channel.

Aux yeux de Michael Randolph les deux mamelles de la psychothérapie relationnelle se comptent au nombre de trois. La relation psychothérapique est asymétrique, elle comporte de la régression, et il y circule un fluide qui de Mesmer à Freud puis Reich énergétise plus ou moins métaphoriquement le tout, ce dont rend compte le désuet mais tenace élan vital de notre vieux Bergson.

L’intérêt de Michael Randolph, qui sévit heureusement en France depuis plusieurs décennies, à titre cosmopolite il est vrai, ce qui lui confère sa saveur particulière, réside précisément dans le fait qu’il n’a jamais totalement rompu avec sa sensibilité et culture ango-saxonne, et que le léger décalé qui s’ensuit ne laisse pas de produire un effet de rafraîchissement pas du tout désagréable, la pensée se plaisant au dénivelé.

À part cela, le psychothérapique réside dans la surprise comme le diable dans le détail. Comme il se trouve que Michael Randolph fait sa place à cette idée on comprend mieux en quel honneur ce texte atterrit sous vos yeux présentement. Bonne promenade donc dans ce jardin anglais interesting however.

Philippe Grauer

Unlearning and relearning — Darning the ravelled
sleave of humanistic psychotherapy.

Désapprendre & réapprendre — ou le ravaudage des manches de la chemise humaniste


Every generation refers to the generation before it as sleepwalkers looking for the key to the stars. That’s if they’re feeling generous. If they’re feeling ungenerous they might refer to them as irrelevant drunks looking for their house keys. Polish history, as you all know, has been marked by the vehemence with which both of these judgements have been passed on most of your illustrious forebears. Here are a couple of quotations, not actually of the period, which however give a feel for that mix of the awe-inspired and the iconoclastic so typical of the sixties and seventies, the spirited and maybe the spiritual midwife for the birth of this Laboratorium:

First, Isaac Newton, who famously said If I have been able to see far, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.

Second, Nobel physics prize winner from 1969, Murray Gell-Mann who said, almost as famously, If I’ve been able to see far, it’s because I’ve been surrounded by dwarves!

The aim of this talk is not in actual fact, whatever you might have hoped, to be a gallant charge, sabre in hand, into the sixties and seventies, looking to separate the giants from the dwarves, however much fun that might be. Rather, by pulling on some pertinent threads in the « ravelled sleave  » of the title, let us see where they lead, where they are frayed and how attitudes to the questions they pose were considered then and might be considered now. The three threads in question are: the assymetrical relationship, why regression? and the green fuse (with thanks to Dylan Thomas).

It’s difficult to overestimate the importance of Sigmund Freud’s decision to support, promulgate, insist on what we in English call lay-analysis. It meant moving away from the objectivist model of healing others, towards an idea, even an ideal, of the laying down of the necessary and thorough subjective foundation which, alone, would allow the emergence of the committed but neutral therapist. It invited non-medically trained practitioners into the psycho-analytic frame and, of course, apparently incidentally but, given the warmth and density of Freud’s lifelong correspondence with many famous women — analysts and non-analysts — really anything but incidentally, gave pride of place to women practitioners at a time when very few women doctors existed. These were great breakthroughs, often contested, as in England in the twenties, France in the thirties and America in the fifties (Poland perhaps as recently as yesterday, if what I hear about new laws is true). The masculine medical complex relinquished and still relinquishes its power very reluctantly.

The irreverent heralds of sixties psychotherapy, Rogers, Perls, Berne, Lowen, Janov took this iconoclastic vision a step further. Not only «  anybody can be an analyst if they work hard enough to understand themselves and, later, others  » but, «  what’s important isn’t really that hard to understand, so pretty much anybody can be a therapist if they’ve got the right attitude . »

In part this was a reaction to the compulsive psychoanalytic overhaul of Gottfried von Leibniz’s famous statement that «  God has chosen the world that is the most perfect, that is to say, the one that is at the same time the simplest in hypotheses and the richest in phenomena  » into something close to its opposite: «  a world that is at the same time the simplest in phenomena and the richest in hypotheses . »

Sixties and seventies psychotherapy, new therapies, in conscious contrast to this incessant complexifying, often went about restoring a simpler vision of the human being, a vision which at times, in both Reich and Janov, for example, reached an almost millenarist notion of transformation : the genital character like the post-primal man was a born again human being, freed of character armour or freed of primal pain just as, in Christian eschatology, the forgiven sinner will be freed of his punishment at the final judgment.

The nature of the relationship in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy has gone through many changes in emphasis and in style. Its specificity is situated on two major axes, its intimacy and its asymmetry. The way these qualities are talked about gives us a tool for probing what people thought and think they are doing in this second oldest profession in the world (I’ll give you a clue, the oldest profession is not web site designer). In the sixties and seventies a DIY style of therapy emerged — Do It Yourself therapy.

Primal Therapy in particular emphasised working through what was commonly called «  your shit  » in pairs. It was called buddying. Even therapists were seen as being essentially interchangeable, as in behaviourist therapy. What asymmetry there was in the relationship was mainly financial. The therapist was largely perceived by Janov as someone who « took no shit  » from patients and was unsentimental enough to bust, or denounce directly, the games they played with themselves. Anybody free of their hangups could be a therapist if they could «  put up with others’ shit « , and might thereby become fairly prosperous. Not too different in reality from the in-house psychoanalytic discourse at various points in its history, notably Paris in the seventies.

As DNA samples or fingerprints are used to distinguish individuals, so attitudes towards symmetry or asymmetry are a touchstone of the overall nature of the therapeutic relationship and enable us to pin down many other aspects of the therapeutic Zeitgeist. Is the relationship temporarily or permanently asymmetric, for example? Only for the duration of the therapy process or life-long? On the answer to this hangs a massive slice of the whole psychoanalytic mystique.

However, having promulgated, even trumpeted the idea of the mutuality of the therapeutic setting (no real difference between therapist and therapised; anyone can do it etc.) the asymmetrical crept back in the rather toxic form that Orwell so neatly encapsulated as: All animals are equal but some are more equal than others. On the one side the powerlessness of he or she who almost by definition, in sixties parlance, was crazy, unstraight, defensive, hung-up, a « baby » patient etc, and on the other, as if inflamed by all that powerlessness, the essentially un-constrained (including ethically unconstrained) power-hunger of the other. Much of this seemed painfully obvious to those who were close to the founders of many psychotherapeutic movements in those years.

Nowadays, bowing as we do to the belief in an ever-expanding corpus of precise (or fairly precise) knowledge, a clearly asymmetrical starting point, perceptual seeds have nonetheless been sown by the like of the american psychoanalyst, the late Steven Mitchell, which emphasise the relevance of a supposedly underlying interpersonal interaction where nobody is quite sure at any given moment who is doing what to whom, a clearly symmetrical perception of the situation. Kleinians also have to confess that projective identification can just as easily insinuate itself from therapist to therapised as the opposite and Jacques Lacan’s believe-it-or-not, tongue in cheek phrase about the therapist supposé savoir , « supposed to know « , whilst clearly hoping people will conclude exactly the opposite, nonetheless says it as it is from their standpoint: the other is unknowable.

No doubt this debate is finally about the whole notion of expertise, as it must also be about the spin-offs of the therapy situation seen as an echo-chamber of the past. Is there any such thing as expertise in this field or are we kidding ourselves? Were the sixties right that you just have to let the handbrake off and the human vehicle will roll wherever it needs to go? (By the way, read House of Cards by Robyn Dawes to get some insight into where statistically significant expertise and societal pressure for case by case certitude meet and confound each other). From the point of view of therapy as an echo-chamber of the past, the weighting of the relationship helps support, helps drive the ever-necessary, ever-problematic quest for sense. It could be and has been argued that that quest is almost an emergent quality of the asymmetric therapeutic relationship.

To resume, although the psychotherapist’s identity is more closely bound to the question of what he or she knows or doesn’t (even can’t) know — or in sixties terms «  hey, who’s in charge here?  » — than it is bound to anything else, we find the paradoxical situation that in every period of conservative, framework-emphasising, distance-centered practice, there is a Sandor Ferenczi offering a poignant, subversive and influential counterpoint, and during those periods when The Rules are ecstatically thrown out of first floor windows, something like an unspeakable domination often emerges, in the worst case spectacularly psychotogenic, the crude and frightening imposition of capricious will on those who have been designated, and believe themselves to be, «  the psychically needy « .

My guess, for what it’s worth, is that we definitely, though no doubt unwillingly, need the dynamic tension between the two, on the one hand a perception of the dynamism of asymmetry in the therapeutic relationship and on the other a willingness to let it go on occasion without inevitably having to label such loosening «  transgressive « . However uncomfortable it may be, however sea-sick some may get, the psychotherapy vessel is at sea, not necessarily lost, but no GPS either, and the movement of the craft as it struggles with its own complex architecture and the changing outside weather or climate is just something we have to live with. Staying tied up in port is the equivalent of living in Disneyland — Mickey and Minnie never go anywhere!

The fraught question of « what is it about psychotherapy that is effective?  » remains, like the in-laws, with us in a recurrent way: Interpretation, understanding, catharsis, a healing relationship or regression. All or none of the above? The last, regression, can scarcely claim to be « effective  » in and of itself and yet. And yet, many have essentially done just that. In fact one of the corner-stones of the therapeutic outlook of the new therapies was the following: Go back, find out where you got bent, stunted, lost, fragmented. Shout, bang, weep, shriek out the hurt and the pieces will come together again just like in a DreamWorks film. The real question about this today it seems to me is no longer whether regression should happen, will happen, can happen; the answer is clearly yes (even as a by-product of junctions crossed in the planned march of progress in cognitive/behavioural therapy), but rather: Are we overreacting to the floundering, bogged-down, regressive struggles of many clients in psychotherapy, as they frequently were experienced two or three decades ago, by subtly discouraging strong emotional expression? I am struck, as a supervisor, by the wistful quality of many supervisees’ references to case-studies in well-read books where the regressive affect seemed to be the oil that allowed the stuck and strained gears of life to start turning.

Along with this wistfulness there is an evident question: Where has the affective expression gone in my patients? How come I don’t see much of what I read is indispensable? Hundreds, if not thousands, of books have been written about the narcissistic character and their lack of access to emotions without definitively persuading at least me that an important part of this loss is not, in part at least, attributable to us, to us psychotherapists.

The quality of surprise that was such a hallmark of the sixties and seventies therapy experience can be fostered on the one hand, but also stifled on the other, and more easily, no doubt, than we are ready to admit. In my view, the key element is the therapist’s attitude to safety. We have, I believe, slid into believing that safety and surprise are somehow incompatible psychotherapeutic qualities, no doubt because what we have decided to call «  safety  » is actually closer to «  predictability  » than we often care to admit. A great book was written about jazz in 1959. By Whitney Balliett, it was called The Sound of Surprise. This talk is a plea to remember to regularly recalibrate our psychotherapist’s awareness around this simple affirmation: Psychotherapy is regularly, sometimes mainly The Sound of Surprise.

I want to finish by quoting Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet. He wrote:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower,

Drives my green age.

The next stanza begins:

The force that drives the water through the rocks

Drives my red blood.

One has to admit, reading most of the books about psychotherapy or psychoanalysis that have come out in the last 20 years, that you rarely find yourself, enthralled, the bedside light on at three o’clock in the morning, unable to put the thing down. The vitalistic impulse or heresy, some might say, which in important ways underpinned — whether as reality or as metaphor was a question of taste — the psychotherapy revolution of the sixties and seventies, has petered out. The green fuse, for want of a Henri Bergson to devise such a lovely packaging phrase for it as élan vital, lies unseen and unappreciated in a world where percentage improvement of depressive conditions are supposed to be measurable and where many are tempted to feel that for the psychotherapist doing it right is almost indistinguishable from not doing it wrong!

Well Dylan Thomas for one would have refused that kind of half-way house. More people than we tend to credit — intent as we are on using DSM designations of personality disorders as our guide-book — come to us in some important way because, as he put it, they feel, intensely or obscurely, what he called the dying of the light. His advice? Simple: Rage, rage, he said, against the dying of the light. There is a vital directness in that admonition that many of our clients, consciously or not, need us not to lose sight of.