My interview with Allan Pimentel

My interview with Allan Pimentel, jazz musician and psychotherapist for over 25 years.  Allan is a member of the management committee of CCPE, the largest transpersonal training institute in the UK. In the interview Allan chats about the history of CCPE, which recently celebrated 30 years of being a training institute, how he became a therapist and about his time as an artist-in-residence at the Esalen Institute, California.

I was only listening

ListeningIt is quite common to hear counsellors and psychotherapists say to themselves, or in group supervision, that they were only listening to the client and that there was a perceived absence of creative intervention in the therapy on their part.  When I feel like this I must remember what Clarkson said about the therapeutic relationship.

Clarkson defined 5 aspects of relationships that were available to therapists as useful ways of relating to clients:

1. The working alliance;
2, The transferential/counter-transferential;
3. The reparative/developmentally needed;
4. The person to person;
5. The transpersonal.

Clarkson’s model is often seen as a hierarchical model, with the transpersonal at the top of the pile, but actually I see it as far more fluid whereby we can move between each one seamlessly.  Listening is a huge part of any particular state of relating.

Rowan and Jacobs identified 3 different ways of being a therapist:

1. The instrumental self;
2. The authentic self;
3. The transpersonal self.

The instrumental self involves the client who is viewed as someone with problems which need to be put right by the client, by the therapist or by both. In the authentic position, the therapeutic relationship is seen as more important than in the instrumental way and the importance of relating. However, in the transpersonal way of being a therapist, relating is at the level of soul, heart or essence, often referred to as “linking”.

One example of such work occurs when we experience “deep empathy” which involves a change in “being” or “awareness” (Puhakka, 2000).  Mearns states that the therapist’s presence alone can be healing for the client through the mirroring of the divine in the client.

There are, of course, various levels of listening and Peter Fenner offers a model: positive, negative and pure listening. Negative is when we listen through a filter of boredom whilst positive listening is marked by moods of interest and validation. it should be obvious what pure listening is. However, what needs to be added to this is the typical situation where our listening is distorted without our knowledge by influences from the past of which we are unaware (the shadow area).

So, next time you hear yourself saying I was only listening, then maybe it is time to re-evaluate that apparent shortcoming. Listening can be one of the greatest gifts we can give any client.


Can psychoanalysis be called transpersonal?

Sigmund FreudIn classic Freudian therapy,  psychological ill health emerges when the balance between the id, ego and super ego is distorted. “Patients” will present for counselling in an egodystonic state – when thoughts and behaviours are in conflict, or dissonant, with the needs and goals of the ego, or, further, in conflict with a person’s ideal self-image or when defences have failed them.

Another way of looking at this would be when the mental defences do not achieve any secondary gain, but are experienced as wholly unpleasureable.

For Freud, in order for psychosexual development to be seamless, the superego should facilitate the successful resolution of the Oedipal crisis. Rivalry that is well managed by the parents can lead to the child’s sense of fairness and a pursuit of justice

Psychoanalysis has contributed some very useful tools to integrative counselling and psychotherapy such as working with the transference, free association, dream analysis, observing slips of the tongue, projective identification, projection and boundary (frame) management. The psychoanalytic approach can be seen in the thinking and practices of many counsellors and therapists who call themselves ‘integrative’. For example, there is a strong psychoanalytic interest in Transactional Analysis, and most Person-Centred counsellors and Existential Therapists not only embrace, but actively work with the idea of transference. Indeed, a major part of assessing a new client is to take a thorough inventory of early history and seek to build a narrative about the quality and robustness of early bonds.

Freud’s project was to demonstrate a quasi-scientific objectivity of the unconscious that could be replicated across cultures.  However, Freud was not privy to advances in neuroscientific research and insightful tools such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) scanning which help us understand the workings of the brain. Dr Susan Greenfield has more recently claimed that the subconscious is a mere add-on to the debate about what constitutes consciousness as opposed to unconsciousness. For Greenfield, in science (and Freud was seeking a science of the mind), is to obtain impartial third person access to an event or a phenomenon – something that you can measure and it is very hard to measure an interaction.  Psychoanalysis involves an interaction between the practitioner and the patient, whereas what happens in science is completely impartial. Greenfield questions whether one psychoanalyst and another would yield exactly the same outcome.

So, can psychoanalysis be termed transpersonal? Ken Wilber says that to have an oedipal problem simply means that this transition has largely failed. It could also be argued that in the free floating attention required of the analyst in long term analysis, when the analyst engages in deep unconscious to unconscious relationship with the patient, there is a deep spiritual connection in the room.  Furthermore, neo Freudian Michael Eigen  could be viewed as exploring similar ground to transpersonal following his writings on mysticism. Whilst Eigen could not be called a transpersonal therapist, his analytical writings, nevertheless, demonstrate a degree of symmetry with transpersonal material when working with the unconscious and in using symbols. The primary orientation of his approach might not be the pursuit of a client’s soul journey but there is active engagement with visualisations, altered states of consciousness and symbolism.


Why transpersonal therapy?

Why transpersonal therapy?  Spiritual essence: Pay attention to your feelings. Why God? Feelings are more primary (basic) than thoughts. Not rage (survival) but interpersonal (spiritual) that is what is the theme that draws us. People anchor themselves to spiritual search. Although some people anchor themselves to religion,  out of fear. Different place to say that you can drop anchor, to have a spiritual experience. We have faith, impulse, yet we don’t know where it is coming from? Most people are scared, so to feel safe, they seek institutions but it is an illusion.

People suffer from losing their fix, then enter therapy. Real reason people come to therapy is because their deepest nature is not being satisfied.  That is the transpersonal perspective. Transpersonal therapy won’t give answers but will encourage you to ask the questions. Therapy can help to solve the immediate problems. But its deeper than that.  Ultimate point is seeking essence, real self.

Health warning: we need to go through cracks. Therapy exposes underlying cracks in our psyche and we need to go through them and grow.