Archive for the ‘Therapy’ Category

Well, everyone knows how I like Freud.  🙂

A straightforward diagnosis

My dear Doktor Freud, you must come to my aid,
For  disequilibrium makes me quite fade.
When I fly in a plane or ride on a bike,
A bott.  of best brandy I must first tike!

Professorial knowledge, I’ve heard it well said,
Is your hallmark, dear Freud, so to you I have fled ;
Will you tell me now clear how you practise your art,
So that I, on vacation, may sober depart?


“How to use psychological principles free
From suggestions that might so happily be
Of ze greatest potential for doing some good
Is a question of seeing ze trees from ze vood.

“For particular problems pose purposive pains,
While pandemical ponderings put people on planes
In a panicky predisposition to pine
For ze pleasing and practical fruit of ze vine.

“Now ze plane and ze pine are not multiple things,
For the one comes in squadrons, while t’other has rings ;
The collection of nouns and the tension of verbs
Gives a dual condition to specialised herbs.

“But you dendritophobia is mostly a mask
For concealing profounder conditions which ask
For a more comprehensive review of your past,
So enabling my science to give healing at last.

“That you ruminate deeply while high in a tree,
And expect to find solace in swigs of brandy,
Is suggesting neurosis involving a beach ;
For, while dad was a fisherman, mum was a peach.

“If my best psychological therapy’s well,
Then the interconnections should come to gel
The traces of reason that pull in train
The idea of my fee, which will free you from pain.”

Jamie MacNab


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I have just received an interesting letter from the NHS ; specifically from a Professor who describes himself (without apparent embarrassment) as a Hub Director.  I at first wondered how many people know that the NHS concerns itself with mechanical engineering, but I let it pass.  I then wondered how on earth the professor came to know of me, for I have had no previous communication with him or his hub or any other part of his machinery.  Ah!  Machinery.  Of course, he must have got my details from the notorious NHS super-computer which contains all the most intimate details of every citizen’s personal history.  You know, that infallible computer that we taxpayers are shelling out billions of pounds for (on pain of jail if we default).  So, the Computer of Infallibility got my name and address right ; but what of the rest of its outpourings?

The letter opens thus : “You were recently sent a test kit from the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme.”  Well, this intelligence may be infallibly known to the Prof, but is hot news to me.  I searched through my pile of junk mail which I keep near the front door for convenience, wondering what sort of envelope a bowel test kit might come in.  But there was nothing remotely NHS-looking, nor anything even faintly smelling of disinfectant.  I wondered if the apparatus might have been in a parcel ; I mean, it might be a substantial piece of kit – a sterilised Clinical Throne with an airtight lid or something.  But the hidey-hole in the front garden, where Postman Pat usually leaves such things, was reassuringly empty.

So, no sign of test kits.  Am I to suppose that this is an elaborate hoax?  Is the Prof playing games?  Indeed, is there a genuine Professor at all?  The NHS is a big place, and there must be lots of scope for the staff to play merry japes on unsuspecting taxpayers.  I wonder how many others have been ‘had’ by this one.

But maybe it is all for real?  Maybe the Mad Computer really is churning out senseless letters like this one in earnest.  Maybe there is also another computer – one which thinks it is doling out test kits to the entire population.  How many kinds of tests are there?  Imagination boggles at the potential for confusion.  And not only for confusion, but for alarm, too – as some deeper reflection reveals.

For why, exactly, was I chosen for this ‘screening’?  Did every six-foot, blue-eyed, handsome swain with distinguished silver hair receive an invitation (command)?  Or is there something about me that the Prof knows but I do not?  Or maybe something his computer knows but he does not?

Or perhaps he/it sees me as a mere statistic ; a number in a list ; a mere abstraction ; an entity that happens to fall within two standard deviations of X.  This reminds me of some sophisticated methods of routine maintenance used by engineers who wish to save themselves the trouble of actually going out and looking at the machines they control.  Am I a mere machine?  A machine that might need a fix?  (or might not? or maybe beyond economic repair?)  A machine that undoubtedly serves the purpose of keeping both computers and technicians fully employed.  If so, I suppose I ought to be flattered.

Well, no test kit, no test ; and no reasonable reply to the Prof’s letter comes to my mind.  I don’t trust myself to write to him to explain the ethics of medical practice and experimental research ; and I don’t trust him to understand those ethics.  He has been conditioned, you see, to exploit his position of infallible rectitude so as to regard the entire population as his plaything.  It isn’t his fault that he is so suggestible as to believe in himself so.  He belongs with a generation of Fat Controllers who are destined to Control ; the attitude goes with that.  I suppose that, in some ways, he resembles a parody of a mediaeval bishop ; who sends inquisitors to parishioners’ homes  so as to get a measure of the local sin symptoms.  For is it not the case now that any illness points to a sin of some kind?  Is it not our duty to try to live for ever?

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The life of Man is the life of the mind.  Not for us the unconscious or semi-conscious world that the lesser creatures inhabit.  We are not automatons that simply ‘behave’ ; we are much more than our instincts and biological drives.  It was one of those frightful eighteenth-century agricultural scientists who remarked, “What is a sheep?  It is but a machine for turning grass into meat.”  But that’s not us ; we are not mere machines, however much our half-educated scientists try to make it so.  In fact, I doubt if even a sheep is a mere machine.

So, we have Mind, we have Soul, and we have Psyche (which is perhaps the broad boundary between the other two, or maybe a synthesis of the two).  These somewhat mysterious qualities of ours are impossible to describe.

Now it’s a strange thing that if you ask people, “What is the mind for?” most will answer that it is to think with ; and, if you ask them what they mean by ‘think’, they’ll usually give an answer that involves solving problems or formulating arguments.  They tend to see thinking as an effortful, even laborious, business.  Oh yes – and “thinking is for clever people”.  But actually they are referring to only one kind of thinking. They are referring to only one of the things the mind can do.

What is the point of having a mind unless you are going to use it?  And why not use it to develop new talents?  Talents that are new to you, but that are not new to your mind.  Your mind knows how to do many things that you don’t know about yet ; and usually you don’t know about them because you’ve been busy doing other things ; you’ve been too busy to listen to what your mind has been telling you.

You might like to think of something like your emotions.  Some emotions, such as pain, are unpleasant.  But the pain, like all emotions, is merely the messenger ; it is impelling you to do something.  It comes with a message for you, so why  not just comply with the message and file the paperwork away?  Why not  read the message and then put the pain behind you?

There’s so much to be said about pains ; too much to say it here and now.  But – just to whet your appetite – you might remember that pain is an emotion ; and you might remember that you can either enjoy an emotion or you may contemplate it ; but you cannot do both at the same time.  There are ways of contemplating pain which require no effort and which take only a little of your time.

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Mr Pengelly,  is a ‘faith healer’ from Leominster.   He has produced a number of letters of appreciation from his patients who thank him for lessening the symptoms of their condition and, in some cases, of curing them.  The law is not happy with this state of affairs and has let its displeasure be known by accusing Mr Pengelly of violating the Cancer Act 1939, which states that it is illegal to advertise offers to treat cancer.  Quite where this Act leaves the tens of thousands of medical doctors we have is uncertain ; but it is certain that the faith healer has been charged.  All this, of course, resurrects a difficulty faced by people of a number of religions and philosophies.

The difficulty for Christians is revealed when one considers the teaching of their Founder.  For did not Jesus heal the sick ; did He not also resurrect the dead? did He not also say to his disciples, “These things that I do, you also shall do”?  Are we not charged with living a life ‘in imitation of Christ’?

Of course, we may choose to live our lives in imitation of Christ (or even of Mr Pengelly) and never advertise any successes in healing (however modest) that we might claim.  But wouldn’t that be just a weaselly way of circumventing the 1939 Act?  Also there is no shred of doubt that faith heals – or that healing can be received through faith.  Are the gifted healers to hide their lights under their bushels?  Who gains from that?

It goes without saying that our all-knowing doctors will point to the numbers of quack ‘healers’ around as evidence that faith doesn’t work.  Sure.  But it’s as well to remember that there are fake ten-pound notes around, too ; but they wouldn’t exist unless there were genuine ten-pound notes also.

But there are also broader and deeper points to be made, and I will return to these another time.

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Another report is being reported on, this time about a government advisor’s opinion on how to make children happier – or at least, less depressed. Apparently two to five per cent of British children are clinically depressed, and they will only get better if they have therapy at school.

I’d be the very last person to denigrate the benefits of psychotherapy, but I do question whether mass therapy carried out by teachers will do the trick ; for the problem that schools have given our children is not that they have deprived them of the ability to be cheerful, but that educationalists have robbed them of the sure opportunities to find (or make) true happiness – that happiness which is best found in working rather hard for something that is rather difficult to get – and succeeding.

What the experts offer them instead is a somewhat easy ride where there are prizes for everyone and top prizes for most. For most children there is not the great challenge in schoolwork and, importantly, there is little risk. The most able children have exams too easy, and so gain little satisfaction from passing them brilliantly ; while the least able find the exams too difficult, and do not even enter for them. It is common knowledge now that this state of affairs has arisen because the educationalists have progressively lowered standards so as to maximize pass rates and – guess what? the children know that! So the root causes of children’s unhappiness lie in a lack of leadership from the generality of teachers – and also from many parents.

It is not the children who need therapy, but the teachers who must be shown how to lead effectively. A useful starting point for this project is to impress on them that leadership is not about being ‘nice’ to people but about achieving worthwhile objectives ; for it the attainment of objectives that give rise to real happiness. A leader can be pretty harsh, but as long as the team win their aims, that leader will be respected and obeyed, and a virtuous cycle is established.

And, of course, a good leader tends to generate other good leaders – almost without trying.

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Although I am not an enthusiast for psychoanalysis, I do admire Freud’s general theory of psychology.  It has ‘the ring of truth’ about it.

One of Freud’s major arguments is that people will avoid doing difficult things, if they can, and do something easier instead.  We always tend towards what he calls the ‘pleasure principle’ and avoid ‘unpleasure’.  So, for example, if one knows that one has to do something unpleasant, like telling the boss some home-truths, one tends to put it off for as long as possible ‘because one is too busy’ ; in other words one finds other things to do instead.

Well, we all know this ‘putting-off’ from our own experience.  But Freud’s insight was to observe that people also do this putting-off quite unconsciously.  In other words, there are things we ought to do but are not aware that we ought to do them ; and we fill our time doing quite unnecessary things instead.  Freud called these unnecessary activities ‘displacement activities’.  The necessary activity has been displaced by an unnecessary one.  By this means, we achieve peace of mind, by not being bothered by unpleasant thoughts about something that we really must do one day.

It’s interesting to see ‘displacement activities’ being used apart from the close and sometimes rather dreary context of Freudian psycho-dynamic theory.  The neurosis of everyday life, as it were.

Christopher Howse seems to suggest that all people are seeking some kind of religious faith, but that they find it difficult to find the psychological courage to maintain their quest. Therefore they do something else as an easier substitute.  As Freud might say, they displace the aim of their search for faith away from religion and on to other aims which, they hope, will give them the same satisfaction. And, of course, all this is performed unconsciously.

This theory is probably true. How else to explain why so many modern people do a lot of “time-filling – television, shopping, driving, passive music-listening, browsing on food, surfing the internet, leafing over magazine pages, following soaps, living vicariously through celebrities” – much of which is apparently pointless?

But, if many non-religious people may be said to seek a faith in what are essentially material comforts – or rather in the comfort that material things can bring – then the same may be said of many modern people who vaguely think of themselves as being religious.

It seems to me that people today are shifting the definition of religion away from a set of definite and difficult doctrines and towards a flexible set of vague humanistic values which are designed to bring emotional comfort to the believer. Religion is becoming a kind of therapy in much the same way as ‘retail’ is a kind of therapy.

But I’m doubtful whether merely learning to feel good about oneself can provide a firm footing for faith. If faith brings peace of mind, and if peace of mind brings an essentially serene temperament then, judging by the levels of unrest in our self-indulgent society, perhaps my doubts are justified

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Sigmund Freud was a remarkable man.  Most people know that he was Jewish and born in Central Europe in the late nineteenth century.  The most productive part of his life was spent in Vienna.   He served in the German Army in WW1 and died in London just before WW2.  The socialists seem to have hated him ; both the Communists and the Nazis burned his books.  But it was the Nazis who gave him his biggest problem, because they were so close to his home.  At least twice the SS turned his house over in an attempt to drive him from Austria.  But he refused to leave.  In the end, when it was clear that his life was in a greater danger than before, his protectors (who included British and American diplomats as well as the Archbishop of Vienna) persuaded him to go to England.  His older sisters, who were too frail to travel, subsequently perished in the cleaning-out of religion in Austria.

There is not much in the life of an individual that is particularly interesting to the wider world.  What does interest us is what a person makes of his or her life ; the evolution of the soul.  And that evolution is conditioned by experiences – of other people, of places, of ideas and of the person’s own activity in the world.  Without the right kinds of  experiences, a person of the brightest potential may turn out dull and achieve little of note.

Freud was a most determined man.  Was he born that way?  or did his experiences make him so?  We can only discuss his experiences and, even then, only so far as we know them ; for experience is not only made of ordinary events but also of the private mental responses to those events – which then become events in their own right.  As a brilliant young neurological researcher at university, Freud was informed by his supervisor that he had no prospects of advancement ; no Jew had a chance.  Did he give up?  No, he qualified as a medical doctor so as to ensure an income, and then he studied psychology, which is where his main interest lay.  We recall how the Nazis tried to drive him out of Vienna and how he resisted right to the end, and how it took the strongest persuasion of his friends to get him out.  For the last eighteen or so years of his life he endured cancer of his jaw ; but he just worked harder – right up to a few days before his death from that affliction.  And almost always, his good humour and humanity shone through.  He did, however, reserve considerable irritation for those who disagreed with his psychology.

We see signs of this determination in his writing.  No detail in an argument was too small.  No causation was too far back to be left unattended ; no consequence was too slight to be overlooked.  He seems to have had intense powers of concentration as well as deep and broad knowledge of human nature as commonly understood.

Although a Jew, Freud seems not to have been at all religious.  The socialists made much of his Jewishness and circulated the idea that his psychology was nothing more then ‘Jewish psychology’ ; as if only the Jew were possessed of an Id, an Ego and a Superego ; as if the interaction of these aspects of personality had no application to Gentiles.  But Freud brushed all this nonsense aside and was always  at pains to mention that ‘his’ psychology applied to all mankind.

But he was traditional in his sources of inspiration.  Mere mention of Freud has the name Oedipus mutely attached.  He quite rightly saw that, whatever we might think of the classic myths, they were nevertheless the products of human intelligence ; and they have long endured in the minds of people ; so therefore they both reflected our one-time understanding of the world and also conditioned our evolving understanding of it.  He was also sceptical of our ability ever to comprehend reality.  Our state of knowledge is always provisional.  Always.  And, although Freud never said so (as far as I know)  this of course is a religious insight.

In view of his scepticism and in view of his trust in human intelligence, he was quite at ease when saying that yesterday’s science is today’s myth ; and today’s science will be tomorrow’s myth.  He even referred to his own theories as “My Myth”  – which implies, of course, that one day they will be overwritten. For him, all our knowledge is but a palimpsest, but a most stupendous one, in which not much is actually lost (though it might become feint) and much is recoverable by careful examination.   So, as well as a profound determination, Freud also had a humility that went even deeper.

It might be remembered, too, that Freud’s ideas probably did most to ensure the demise of the Victorian lunatic asylums.

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