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Core Process Psychotherapy
The Heart of Core Process Psychotherapy
Post Qualification
MA Programme
Post Graduate Diploma
in Mindfulness Based
Core Process Psychotherapy

The Heart of Core Process Psychotherapy. Part 2

By Susan Groves


The first of the four noble truths-- or, perhaps more helpfully, ennobling truths--in Buddhism is often stated as "there is suffering". Alternative translations of the Sanskrit word dukkha are unsatisfactoriness or essential ambiguity. As a friend said to me recently: why is life so unreliable? She was referring to the fact that one may feel one is entering a good space, only to wake the next day feeling pretty desolate.

In Core Process, in the therapeutic hour, there is an invitation to be with what is--this may include thoughts, imagery, sensations in the body, a movement that needs to happen. Core Process has been described as an exploration of how we are in our present experience, and how this expresses the past conditioning and conditions of our lives. One works, typically, from a place of emptiness and not knowing, asking the question: what is this? So, should a client speak of feeling 'disgruntled', even 'angry', one would not assume one really knew what this meant. One would enquire into these descriptions, also perhaps inviting the client to become aware of any accompanying bodily sensations.

Having worked extensively in rural South Africa prior to completing the psychotherapy training, I had seen the raw and ugly face of deprivation. This was a suffering that I knew, as least in some measure. Thereafter, living in the privileged community in Hogsback (South Africa) and, thereafter, in Devon in England, was an important counterpoint for own cultural background For me, a profound "finding" from this journey is the commonality of suffering. It may have very different faces, but is something that is part of the human experience.

The Brahmaviharas/ Divine Abidings:

CPP is often referred to as a psychospiritual modality. I have said that it draws deeply on the Buddhist tradition. What places CPP within the psycho-spiritual is the understanding that the therapeutic encounter happens within a wider healing and holding field. So the two people in the room are not considered to be discrete individuals. Rather they are seen to be there with the ancestors of each, and all this within a wider field of support. The Vedic teachings in the Buddha's time spoke of the 4 Brahmaviharas or divine abidings (my own translation is a good place to hang out). These are metta, or loving kindness; karuna, meaning compassion; uppekkha, or equanimity; and mudita, meaning sympathetic joy. The trainee therapist is trained to hold these qualities--which are also intrinsically part of each of us--and to rest in them in the therapeutic meeting. There is a profound sense that one is not on one's own in the work, and this allows for a greater sense of ease than would otherwise be the case. This sense of being supported in the work by a wider field of kindness and wisdom is vital for me.

Embodied Presence in Relationship:

Core Process Psychotherapists, in their training, cultivate the quality of presence. Therapists are encouraged to rest in their being nature and to receive the client from this place. A particular emphasis that CPP holds, which is not always included in other psychotherapeutic modalities, is that of including the somatic in the therapeutic encounter. So the body of the therapist and that of the client are held in awareness equally with other forms of arising. Beginning to pay attention to the body may take several years for many of us. We have become accustomed to place more value on cognition and feelings. It is very enriching to include this aspect in the work as it reminds us that we are dwelling in mystery. In this attention to the vague/less formed, we are in a more delicate enquiring space, with less control. So the therapist will be aware of her/his body as a tool, receiving clues as to what might be happening within the space. At times, the therapist's somatic experience may be shared with the client, but this is not necessarily typical. (An example might be: As you said that, I became aware of a pain around my heart area, and I'm wondering, how is your heart doing now?) The therapist's body will sensitize her/him to what may be occurring beneath the level of words. There will, as appropriate, be a gentle invitation to the client to be aware of body sensations that arise.

There is not an attempt then to interpret these, but they are merely held in awareness. Sometimes it is the lack of body awareness that may be enquired into, such as in the following example:

Client: I'm in an ice block
Therapist: Is all of you in the ice block?
Client: No, not my head and feet?
Therapist: Can any part of you move?
Client: Yes, my eyes.

This may be all the dialogue relating to the body at this point, but one would probably return to this sense of frozen-ness later in the session, by which time it may well have changed. Another short example shared with me by a colleague is the following:

Therapist: Where are you now?
Client: I'm on the ceiling.
Therapist: May I join you there?

So body sensation--or lack thereof-- can be a useful area of enquiry, along side other areas of access.

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