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Core Process Psychotherapy
The Heart of Core Process Psychotherapy
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The Heart of Core Process Psychotherapy. Part 3

By Susan Groves

A 2-person awareness practice:

Maura Sills, a pioneer of CPP, continues to view CPP as an experiment--25 years on--into whether a one-person awareness/ mindfulness practice can become a two-person practice . Hence the emphasis on present moment awareness as the portal, if you like, for whatever the client might bring. Questions that are often asked may be: What's happening now and how is that for you? These are two very useful questions. In fact early in the training, in practicing in pairs as therapist and client, the therapist was only permitted to use these two questions.

This was initially for a short period of about 10 minutes and later for the whole therapeutic hour. It's a very useful exercise. In this way one is enquiring into the person's immediate experience and then enquiring into their relationship to this experience. For the client, this can very much include what is happening in the body. For the therapist, the encouragement in this practice is to bring a freshness and flexibility to each moment, with the awareness that this moment is different from the one that preceded it. It keeps the work very fluid and alive.

Sympathetic Joy:

I will now concentrate on one of the Brahmaviharas in more depth. Sympathetic joy has been described as the quivering of joy in resonance with the other--as if the string on one musical instrument vibrates and those on the accompanying instrument vibrate in sympathy. CP therapists don't miss a chance to resonate with the joy of their clients!

It can be with difficulty that we orient to joy. There is perhaps help we can draw from the religious traditions here with their emphasis on rejoicing and thanksgiving. Findings from neuro-science confirm that we more easily orient towards difficulty and pain. Neuroscientists explain this by reminding us of our animal nature that is attuned to threat and survival. So one encourages clients not to skip over their more joyous experiences.

The following is a story I related to a therapist I saw briefly many years ago which may illustrate the CP approach regarding joy. As an 8-year-old child, I told my mother I had a sore foot and could not go to school. I was afraid, having been warned by an adult on the train the day before that she would be reporting me to the school for boisterous behavior. My mom--a nurse--bandaged my foot (though I don't think she really believed me), packed a picnic, and we went to sit on a blanket under the pride of India tree on the lawn.

On hearing this story, Sheila, my therapist, said earnestly: "So you couldn't tell your mother the truth". I felt somewhat humiliated on hearing that, but I do remember thinking she was clever. A CP approach might, by contrast, go something like this: "Oh wow, you had a picnic with your mom! Was the tree in flower? Do you remember the quality of the shade?" And so on. One would savor the experience. For me, it may be my only memory of time alone with my mother (we were a family of four). So, yes, enquiring into joy is part of the exploration.

Where do you take refuge?:

In CPP there is, in accordance with the emphasis on joy, almost an insistence on self-care. This is often expressed in terms of resourcing oneself--which is, I suppose, returning to source. One is encouraged to discover one's own ways of replenishing oneself. The result of this is that, in doing the work, one is refreshed and able to be as fully present as possible to oneself and to the other. A recent book on neuro-science , in a similar vein, speaks of taking refuge. The client is invited to notice their places of refuge. For some, it may be drinking a cup of coffee or looking at a photograph of a grandmother. I remember hearing of a client who could access the body sense of galloping on a horse, and this would sustain her in difficult times. I remember one of my clients referring to a memory of twisting pastry to make jam tarts with her gran--this image could soothe her. This really is an ongoing exploration for each of us: Where do we go for refuge? For myself at present I am nourished by a man coming over regularly to teach me a little about organic gardening--we work together for a few hours in the garden. Similarly, a young Xhosa-speaking woman who is teaching me more Xhosa is something that gives me much energy and joy.

I worked as part of a public mental health team in England, and I enjoyed the fact that we were therapists from different therapeutic backgrounds. It did seem to me that the emphasis of CPP on self-care-- not as an add-on but as an intrinsic part of the training--made a real difference as to how we held the work. It seemed clear to me that as CP therapists, we were less tired and less overwhelmed by the work than our colleagues--and perhaps less determined that our clients would "get better". It seemed to me that looking after ourselves in our lives did enable the CP therapists to do the work with joy and refreshment, rather than strain and exhaustion.

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