Written by: Hayley Merron Stevens
The term “talking cure,” originally used to describe Freud’s psychoanalysis, is synonymous with all therapies where words are seen as the main vehicle of expression, i.e., psychotherapy, counselling.
First used by Anna O in 1880, ‘talking cure’ referred to her remarkable recovery, under Dr Josef Breuer.* However Anna O. had another, less well known description for the work she did with Josef Breuer – ‘chimney sweeping.’ That may seem like an odd descriptor at first glance, but look beyond the Dickensian imagery: small boys, poverty, squaller… and what we find is a metaphor that tells us much more about the relationship between client and therapist and the psychotherapeutic process that underpins it.
In this metaphor Anna O. is the chimney, the sooty deposits the disturbance. Of the two people involved in the work it is Anna O. who plays the role of apprentice sweep, Breuer the master sweep.**
While it is the therapist who is responsible for ensuring the work is carried out safely and that the client is not overworked or overstretched, it is Anna O, the apprentice who must dislodge and bag the soot. No one else can do the work for her.
In Victorian times soot, once bagged, was never thrown away but used as fertiliser. In the chimney soot is toxic blocking the free flow of air. In the garden it acts as a fertiliser promoting growth and health. The only difference is the location. Soot and fertiliser are the same substance. In psychotherapy the difference is one of perspective.
Gaining a new perspective on the the problems we have, the difficulties we face, the relationships we find ourselves in, enables use to loosen what has become compacted and solidified in ourselves. The metaphorical soot that once seemed so problematical now the very stuff that helps us to grow.
However metaphors while extremely useful are not without there pitfalls one of which is the tendency to oversimplification. The term coined by Anna O over a hundred years ago paints a florid picture of masters and servants. It makes it all to easy for us to draw an unhelpful and inaccurate picture of the therapist, client relationship.
In deeply transformative psychotherapy, both therapist and client are stretched and challenged. The relationship far from being linear is rich and nuanced. In this relationship the psychotherapeutic process does call for a certain amount of talking. But perhaps more importantly it requires a certain quality of listening one which, facilitates a space that can be all too difficult to find outside of the therapeutic relationship. Here the client is given space to hear, often for the first time, the truth of what is being said and felt on an experiential level. In this moment the relationship between therapist and client changes from the already known, to the unknown, to a truth that moves beyond words.
That the psychotherapeutic process should defy our best attempts to be conveniently labelled should perhaps come as no surprise - least of all to those familiar with the process. That we have been left, thanks to a quirk in history, with the label ‘talking cure,’ is not without irony, talking cure saying as it does so little about the psychotherapeutic process. And whilst the term ‘chimney sweep’ is far from ideal, it does at least provide us with questions. As good a place as any to start that rich and nuanced relationship we call psychotherapy.
* Bertha Pappenheim, always presented under the name of "Anna O." as the original patient of psychoanalysis was never treated by Freud but by his friend and mentor Josef Breuer.
** In Victorian England master sweeps would employ a number of apprentice sweeps or climbing boys.
Written by: Hayley Merron Stevens
It is the first Sunday in 2014 and I have just returned home from a morning spent at Gorton Monastery, a beautifully restored Franciscan church on the outskirts of Manchester now used as a venue for conferences, weddings and social events.
I’d been asked to contribute to an event at The Monastery about 'Body from the perspective of different health and well-being practitioners'.
After much pondering about what I could do in just 20 minutes, I decided to use the common experience of 'shaking someone's hand' to look at Embodied Relating.
In the first 10 minutes I took people through some simple activities to explore the difference between a disembodied way vs embodied way of holding another person's hand. These simple activities brought up a lot of feeling. For some it put them in touch with sadness, others experienced anger, others experienced warmth, love, a letting go of tension, there was also anxiety and fear, and some blanked out or walked away.
What is Embodied Relating?
Very simply put embodiment is our capacity to be in contact with our own feelings, sensations, impulses and thoughts. The degree to which we are embodied could be said to be the degree to which we are alive. To be dis-embodied - cut-off or out of contact with our feelings, physical sensations, inner impulses and thoughts - is to be cut-off from our experience of life.
Many - maybe most - of us are more or less embodied.
Embodied Relating is therefore our capacity to be embodied whilst being in relationship with another. The more embodied we are the more able we are to make deep connections with others.
That is to say that the degree of my internal connection will determine the depth of my external connections.
But not only does dis-embodiment result in less aliveness, it also cuts us off from our wisdom.
Our ability to sense our selves and others - physically and emotionally - provides us with vital information. Information we need to make good choices about relationships - all kinds of relationships.
This is not to say disembodiment is bad or wrong - numbing, deadening or tensing a part of our self was at one time the only choice available to us which is why we did it. The point of exploring Embodied Relating is to have that choice again. For many of us we do not even know that we are out of contact with our self and therefore not fully able to be in contact with others.
You can eat without tasting; it is not difficult.
You can touch someone without touching; it is not difficult;
We are already doing it.
You shake hands with someone without touching him
because to touch, you have to come to your hand, you have to move to your hand.
You have to become your fingers and your palm, as if you, your soul, has come to the hand.
Only then can you touch.
You can take someones hand in your hand and withdraw.
You can withdraw; then the dead hand is there.
It appears to be touching but it is not touching.
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (1976)