Years ago, before I came up with Reverse Therapy, I wrote a spoof called The Rasputin Guide to Therapy. The joke was that Rasputin – the so-called ‘Mad Monk’, sex-maniac, and Svengali of legend – might have had some useful things to say about personal change. I was also trying to get people to take psychotherapy less seriously and be more realistic about what it can, and can not, achieve.
In fact there is no real evidence that psychotherapy cures anything, although it can help in the search for solutions. That didn’t satisfy me and was one of the reasons I set out on the path that led to Reverse Therapy. In the Rasputin book I wanted to draw attention to the things that anyone can learn to do in order to get back their mental health. That they didn’t need a therapist to do that for them.
In my time I have met a few very, very good therapists. But their excellence had very little to do with their training and much more to do with their personal qualities: warmth, intelligence, experience of the world, emotional depth, resilience and imagination. I have also met a lot of poor therapists who were poor for the opposite reason: that all they really had was their training.
Here are some of the reasons why therapy is not as good as it could be:
- The focus on theories rather individual human beings. Most courses in therapy are academic: text-books, lectures, essays and written exams. With little time spent on learning how to do therapy.
- The focus on what is going on in the client’s memories. But the problems most clients have is with the world outside their heads: with work; with partnerships, children and parents; with money worries, alcohol and abuse.
- Wasting time worrying about ‘transference’ (the projection of wishes, memories and expectations onto the therapist). It is likely that transference either doesn’t exist or is just attention-seeking. Either way, this is time that would be better spent on directing the client’s attention away from the therapist, and away from her neurosis, and towards her real-life problems.
- Nearly all clients who come for therapy say that their symptoms appeared while they were struggling with their anxieties over families, relationships and work. They get well again when they solve those problems (or leave them behind and move on). Very few approaches (Reverse Therapy is one exception) teach people how to do that. The very worst therapists sneer at people who offer practical help, seeing it as somehow beneath them.
- Academics have far too much influence on psychotherapy. The two dominant approaches – Psychoanalysis and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy – are usually taught and supervised by people who work in universities, and who rarely make contact with ordinary people.
- Many therapies focus on stories, memories and experiences from the past and spend endless time going over them. This does nothing to help clients learn how to be more effective problem- solvers in the present. Raking over the past often becomes an end in itself as time and money is wasted on delusions like ‘the unconscious mind’. Similarly, other therapies focus on identifying the client’s beliefs about reality and changing them, even though this is irrelevant to changing behavior..
- Some well-known therapies are just single techniques. These include Hypnotherapy, Focusing, EMDR, and old-style Cognitive therapy. NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) is a bundle of techniques borrowed from other therapies. These techniques are applied on a hit-and-miss basis to almost any problem. If they work, good. If they don’t the therapist still earns a fee.
- Therapists are taught to keep themselves aloof from clients and not to divulge personal information such as their experiences, hopes, wishes, emotions, and likes and dislikes. They are also taught to remain impassive if the client gets upset. While professional boundaries are important, this attitude to therapy leaves many clients wondering whether they are just objects of analysis. They rarely get encouragement or praise or expressions of personal warmth. This, in turn, fosters the delusion that therapists are more developed, more mature, less ‘irrational’ than their clients. The inferior role allocated to the client keeps her in a state of low-confidence in which she is trapped.
- There is plenty of evidence from surveys that some forms of therapy and counseling make people more traumatized, confused, and helpless. The reason for this is the insistence that clients go back over traumatic memories again and again. In the end this becomes an obsession and the client’s illness gets worse. And, indeed, fresh illnesses are created too. One German study of people who’d received psychotherapy showed that, on average, they were more likely to have a heart attack than people who had not.
- Many therapists are not themselves developed, mature or wise people with common-sense or, even, much real experience of life. In fact, quite the opposite. This may be why stress levels are higher amongst therapists than in the general the population.
- Psychotherapy usually ignores the spiritual, social, creative, physical side of human beings. Yet spiritual purpose, a connection to the community, creative activities and regular physical exercise are the factors that show up time and time again in studies that look at the differences between people who become depressed and those who don’t
- Psychotherapy is altogether too intellectual, too serious. It is light on laughs, smiles, jokes, irreverence, play, spontaneity or even enjoyment. Which brings me to Rasputin
What struck me about the stories about the way Rasputin worked was that he would often get people to do things that before they might have thought crazy, childish, ‘dirty’ or irresponsible. Some were told to go on pilgrimages, some to give away more of their money, some to party harder, others to take dancing lessons and still more were told to do more physical work or voluntary help. With worried, anxious, over-intellectual clients Rasputin discouraged them from reading books and newspapers and talking about their problems, and instead told them to join the peasants in the field and work. Wealthy, bored, spoilt clients were told to present themselves at Rasputin’s house in Siberia, where they were put to work on charitable enterprises, taken on long walks, given simple meals, and taught self-help and prayer techniques which calmed the mind and raised awareness.
Rasputin was a self-taught healer (he was never actually a monk) who used these ideas himself. He once walked 3000 miles from Siberia to Jerusalem, along the way drinking in the sea, the mountains, the lakes and the people. His favourite recreations seem to have been drinking, dancing, excursions into the country, making new friends and giving away his money.
Here are a few of ‘Rasputin’s’ tips for a healthy life.
- Never give away your power to another person. This applies to partners, employers, children, parents, teachers and – most especially – gurus who claim to have better answers than you do to life’s problems. As human beings they will be struggling with their own problems and will not know more than you do about your own best way forward in life.
- Trust in yourself. Learn to recognise what is true for you (and not for others) and be guided by your own emotions about things.
- Learn to dance, sing or play music.
- Whatever you do for a living, or if you care for others, then do it with a passion. If doing things is an obligation rather than a pleasure then be sure to balance these chores with other activities for which you do have a passion.
- Never look back. If things go wrong, or if you are sad and disillusioned, then move on and find a better way of life.
- Take risks – often. You will never find out what you are capable of unless you experiment. And the more you move outside the comfort zone Headmind has circumscribed for you the more confident you will become.
- Seek the humour in things. If you are not very good at doing that then spend plenty of time with people who are.
- Make time for people you love. And let them make time for you.
- Be honest. Don’t compromise on the truth just to keep someone else in their comfort zone. Practice gently opening your heart to others.
- Cultivate enlightened selfishness. If you don’t take a break or go easy on yourself from time to time you won’t be able to care for others. Even the Christ and the Buddha needed time off from their mission.
- Never be a slave to convention or ‘the right way’ to do things. Regularly take risks, dare to be different, do the opposite of what others expect you to do, break old habits, and go wild.
Finally, here are some of Rasputin’s mistakes to avoid:
- Don’t drink too much
- Don’t give away all you have
- Be selective about your sexual partners
- Don’t go with strangers who invite you to their house at midnight (they might want to shoot you)
- Don’t get mixed up with the Royal family