Connecting up psychotherapy and religion – personal relations 3

Jeremy Hazell wrote about the self as a unique centre of meaningful experience, but that it all depended on what a person can experience and use as an understanding relationship. So there has to be a varying response and a reciprocal relationship, in other words it grows out of the mutual attempt by the therapist and the person being seen to understand and experience together. Into this comes the transference and the chance for the therapist to introduce the person to an entirely unexpected response which can lead to freedom. I like here the quote from R. D. Laing who once said: ‘Not what happened before (transference) but what never happened before’ – a new experience of relationship.

This too can happen in relationship with God – if we bring past experiences, and, for example, expect a critical and ‘punishing’ God who rewards according to compliance and so on, nothing much will happen even though we may feel thoroughly involved in being ‘faithful’. In this case the faithfulness is to the past and not to present experiences. If we can stand aside from this embedded expectation, we might, as Gerard Hughes put it, be ‘surprised’ – by the God of surprises. In other words, set free into a relationship with God not based on what happened before, but on what has never happened before. Being able to be open to the new might feel upsetting and uncomfortable, but brings us to a new place of value and freedom.

How hard it is not to set the agenda and expectations. In an account of conversations with Harry Guntrip, one American researcher describes how on visiting Guntrip he was also introduced to the then director of psychiatry at Leeds Medical School who was opinionated and patronizing, and not a supporter of analytic work, but rather of pharmacology and short-term therapy. Guntrip had noted with amusement that the director had a reputation for diagnosing all patients as having agitated depressions. A friend of Guntrip’s had sat in with the director as he interviewed a patient, and was amazed at how loud, arrogant and hammering a person he was, so that he made the patient increasingly worried and jumpy. Later, the director, truly puzzled, asked the colleague, “Why is it that every patient I see is an agitated depressive?”

The view of Hazell and Guntrip is encapsulated by the idea of the need for affirmation of the core of personal reality, for the eventual resurgence of the patients’ ‘lost heart’, through ‘a secure inactivity’ and ‘receptivity to healing influences’. Hazell says that from his personal and professional experiences where genuine healing has come about, the crucial therapeutic factor has been the arrival of a state of ‘communion’ described as a ‘kind of one-ness (in which) all opposition and all ambivalence lose their sense and their reason d’etre’, this is where the essential reciprocity of the relationship is most apparent. Echoes here of the transcendent moment, when all opposites are held, and where there is a sense of deep communion in relationship with God.