Connecting up psychotherapy and religion – personal relations theorists 2

Jeremy Hazell asks what is it that people are wanting when they come into psychotherapy. Clearly a sense of their significance as a person, quoting here Ronald Fairbairn: as ‘mattering for their own sakes as persons in their own right,’ and perhaps also through an experience of mutual valuing. I like the way that Hazell answers ‘how’ this happens:

‘surely through a steadily evolving knowledge and awareness of each other, through every kind of weather, in season and out of season, in and out of transferences, moving unevenly towards a state of sanctuary, of resting together.’

It is only through this quality of safe relatedness that the anxious mind can be stilled and the true nature of the self can be restored. To achieve this as the patient, one has to believe that the other person is fully with us – on one’s side – there ‘in spirit’, alongside and not ‘working out something in their head’ or ‘working towards an ending’ – not in fact consciously ‘working’ but rather present. It’s rather about seeing the latent natural health of the human psyche: ‘Seeing this living potential in the other person, and fostering its growth by ourselves becoming the medium for its realisation is the purpose of psychotherapy.’ So it is the capacity to be with the person, and this is surely true also in spiritual direction and pastoral work.

Hazell wonders how psychic maturation occurs and here I think are clear links to the idea of spiritual maturation as what he highlights is that emotional maturity isn’t to be measured by the extent to which we can cope or survive or thrive without connection but rather ‘by our willingness to acknowledge our absolute dependence on relations with others for the full realisation of our proper nature.’

‘Emotional maturity comes about when a genuine experience of relatedness supports and nourishes the heart of the self, and when this experience is able to be enjoyed (consciously or better still unconsciously) either in solitude or in contemporary personal relationships.’

This is the idea of ‘mature dependence’ and so similarly it is reliance and dependence on relationship with God and God in others that allows us to think about what spiritual maturity might look like. However this maturity is always relative as Guntrip put it:

‘Even when analysis reaches down to the deeper level, as I believe mine did with Winnicott, there is no such thing as a “full cure”. But while the past is never fully outgrown, one is put in a stronger position internally to experience with fuller understanding the way the bad old relations patterns are aroused and disturbed by present day events’.

And ‘if the past is never outgrown, neither is the whole personal self static while a genuine personal relationship is being experienced.’ This links to the idea of what Winnicott called ‘living spontaneously’ once again something that is alive and happening when one is engaged in a genuine experience or glimpse of an experience with God.