Connecting up psychotherapy and religion – personal relations theorists

Earlier this year Jeremy Hazell one of the founding members of the psychotherapy training that I undertook died. He had originally trained in theology and had become a vicar but following a dream whilst in a first therapy where he was seeking help for anxiety neurosis and palpitations he had seen that his ministry was to be predominantly pastoral – working with people. The dream shaped his future and he writes:

‘I was sitting in a small chapel which opened directly onto a busy city street. I was not being active, but was simply being there for any passer-by who felt in need of spiritual solace. There were no services, and the place was deeply peaceful amid the bustle of the city.’

Following this Hazell worked for the Samaritans alongside his work as a vicar then realizing that he needed more therapeutic experience he embarked on a five year personal training analysis with Harry Guntrip in the 1960s. Guntrip (who had originally also trained in the church as a Congregational minister) at the same time as seeing Hazell was himself in analysis with Donald Winnicott so as Hazell writes he, Hazell, reaped the fruits of this. Guntrip saw the purpose of psychotherapy as one of facilitating a genuine relatedness in which the person being seen could recover and develop. This fits with the thinking that the ego is the core of the personal self intrinsically relationship and identity seeking and Guntrip’s ideas came to be known as personal relations therapy. Hazell writes that Guntrip took,

‘a personal delight in finding the lost aspects of the personality, restoring relatedness and attending the growth of the original natural self. Thus I found energies which had long been subverted by anxiety to structure a “false self” gradually becoming free for reinvestment along lines of genuine personal interest…I experienced a profound sense of inner security, of on-going being and inner purpose, at first in the sessions themselves, and then increasingly in my family and the outer world … Guntrip sought to reach, repair and restore the emotionally weakened core.’

Looking back at sermons written whilst he was in treatment Hazell believed that they began to reflect the transforming experiences that took place in his analysis, as for instance ‘Love is man’s growing-power and God is love’ (Harvest festival 1965); ‘We carry within ourselves the seeds of our own maturity’ (1967); ‘Our own love and longing to love with which we are born, is the spring of our personal life’, and ‘When perfect love casts out fear, the energy expressed in anger is recalled in the service of the soul in loving, and the individual begins to realise his potential as a child of God’.

Hazell writes that these remained his firm beliefs and though eventually leaving his work as a priest he felt that he had discovered the vocation of therapeutic counselling within the wider ministry.