CONTEMPLATING LIFE IN AOTEAROA

A. Roy Bowden

Pukerua Bay, Aotearoa.

Wondering if psychotherapy is indeed, 'wondering'

Psychotherapy is capable of meeting basic human need if it remains fascinated by the complexity of human life. Fascination is central whereas definition is always better 'on hold'.

If psychotherapy is an instrument to meet basic human need it needs to probe the foundations of being and, at the same time, point to the power of an interactive universe.

It will be a process of enquiry, searching for meanings that are much wider than those which occur in the 'internal self'. It will not be limited by searching for beginnings and endings, individual trauma on its own, or narrowly defined relationships.

Once I am aware the whole world is contained within one individual it is possible to listen to someone's stories as if I were an artist, building an art work in my mind. I am moved to seek colours in people's stories rather than facts.

Traditional psychological labels such as paranoia, projective identification and borderline personality are limiting. I prefer to see emotions floating in and out of existence with no urge to suggest that people ‘freeze' emotions in order to examine them.

When specific traumatic events are mentioned I'm alerted to the possibility there are other people, present in our minds, who may be central to the story. They may not have contributed to trauma but they may be conjured up to provide support.

There are no singular causes to find and that makes it possible to reach beyond reason and work with imagination. There is no need to work out what is occurring in a 'psychological' sense alone. 'Psychology' is just one way to frame what is happening in and around 'mind', 'emotion' and 'behaviour'

Tradition would have me focused on the internal life of people and often that prevents me from contemplating the universe and its complex influences. I need to be free to suggest we trace the links between historical events, social settings, cultural belonging, physical and emotional pain.

It helps to talk about connections between personal trauma and trauma in the world around us. It helps to speak of what we experience as an individual as well as what is happening within and across our relationships.

The significance of not knowing where pain is centred or why sadness seems extreme can also be connected with the history of people in this country where colonisation runs like a continuous film on screen.

My own cultural experience when growing through childhood was sometimes filled with pictures in my mind as I coped with mild family tension. I am still surprised when health professionals see those mind pictures as explicable in psychological terms alone.

I know frightening creatures in day and night dreams were real. I know my mind helped me imagine myself walking into the sea the day  I thought my mother was leaving. I know I felt my motorcycle crash in the middle of the night in a deep sleep.

The reasons all these experiences took place had something but not everything to do with life in a sometimes tense family home. In addition, there were other forces at work which also gave rise to the images. For example, religious life had taught me water would hold me, cleanse me or sustain me in death. Motorcycles were very much connected with heroes and taking risk to the point of death. That is more the stuff of mythology and spiritual yearning than psychic affect. Place it firmly inside my 'psychologically conditioned response filing system' and you have made it merely banal and functional.

Allow me to ride with fantasies, believe the pictures are real and connect them to the world of myth and legend and I may well find my own healing.

Perhaps consciousness consists of scenarios that move forwards and backwards through time. Perhaps those images are best left to keep moving, as long as we take notice of them as they flow past. They might trigger new ideas, suggest solutions to dilemmas or confront us with what we might name as 'truths' within.

Psychotherapeutic assumptions are sometimes used selectively thereby excluding vast areas of human functioning. Consistent with that, the old adage ‘The person with the trauma or the pain knows best’ may need to be resurrected.

When I look out the window my past, present and future is symbolised in nature and in spaces around sea, land and sky. I look at the ocean and experience a range of emotions such as regret, grief and excitement. I see an island out there and I am afraid as well as challenged. The sky tells me my knowledge is limited and my imagination has vast potential. The headlands are my stubborn self, not moving in the wind.

In order to be my therapist (or friend) you don’t need 'facts' or 'set scenes' or the names of perpetrators in my stories. It is enough to help me contemplate my images and wonder. I will unfold myself while you pay attention to me. You will have met my basic human need.