Behaviour Psychotherapy

Many Happy Marriages

The only way not to be disappointed is to expect nothing. The expectations of marriage today are much too great. Throughout my life I have done my best to understand what makes us tick and how we respond to each other. Two people who have lived together for a long time go through three phases. First, a honeymoon process when everything seems wonderful, then reality creeps in because we cannot be on our best behaviour forever, then disillusionment takes over and finally they either get divorced or try to find out how things could be better.

Today, many people seek out therapeutic help.

Very soon after I began my private practice I had more couples clients than single ones. Their ages varied from quite young to bordering on old age. Since what I know most about is how and why we talk to each other I soon devised a method of my own that proved to work very well.

This is what I discovered. First, many people wanted to come on their own because their spouse refused to. I soon realised that that was a waste of time. Those who came alone invariably blamed their husband or wife for all their problems. As I always believed that it takes two to tango, I knew that the only path I could follow was to find out what was going on between them. I could only do so if both attended.

In the first session I encouraged them to talk to each other. I let this go on for a while. They soon forgot I was there and went back to their usual aggressive habits of talking with each other. I said nothing until I stopped them, which didn’t take very long. They either tried to get into an argument which I quickly brought to a full stop, or they went into a sullen kind of silence. I told them that I would give them some written homework to do and bring back to me at the next session, if they decided to come back.

I asked each one in turn what was the worst thing they disliked in the other. I asked each to listen carefully and tell me what each thought the other had said. They invariably got it wrong. This action in itself shook them up a bit. They had to think hard because they were conscious of my presence; wondering all the time what I would say, something that they never did with each other. I gave each one of them a piece of paper and asked them to write down all the other things that annoyed each other most but to say nothing until the next session.

I realised the value of the presence of a listening therapist. If clients did the homework they usually came back. Then the fun began. I asked them who would like to go first? Understandably neither did, but eventually one of them broke the ice because they found the silence embarrassing. They were not used to silence.

What I did was to take every complaint each made and analyse what they really meant. I learned that both had misunderstood each other because neither of them listened. All they did was to pull a disagreeable face and turn their eyes and ears away. I learned long ago that if anyone says something to me that they think I will not like because they intended to annoy me, they will look anywhere except straight into my eyes. Only if both participants genuinely wanted to improve their lives would they begin to realise the uselessness of such behaviour. There are many different methods that I adopted to help them to come back to reality and retrieve their sense of humour, if they ever had one. Most of us do.

The last resource is for all of us to realise that no matter how much we like another person we need a rest from each other now and then. We cannot expect people to be as perfect as we want them to be because we all know that we are far from perfect ourselves. I use the ‘we’ because I have been through all these phases myself not once but many times. I now know that it is possible to keep a real friend or spouse provided we improve our ability to be tolerant without overdoing it.

General Psychotherapy

A Picture Of Truth

It is an interesting phenomenon that when psychotherapy works clients are often unaware what is going on until it is pointed out to them. Things change gradually. An unassertive lady may unexpectedly stand up for herself when she has been unfairly treated. Someone who fears speaking in public finds he does so unusually well. Someone with a phobia about heights looks out of a high hotel window and realises later that he felt no fear.

Surprisingly, instead of being delighted by the change some people are uneasy about it. The sort of thing they say is “I didn’t feel like myself. My voice sounded strange as though someone else was speaking.” The fact is that we all change from day to day, very gradually, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst. People need time to adjust to feeling and behaving differently. We are all very closely tied to our habits. They do not change easily because we all become addicted to our present lives. We feel safe with what we know which is one reason that people stay in very difficult situations. They moan about it to all who will listen. Why? Because they hope that people will pay attention and give them sympathy. That is their compensation. Don’t do it!

I was always fascinated by Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” One of my favourite games is learning to read people from their faces. The older people are the easier to read. One of the advantages of my kind of research is that I have read non-fiction massively all my life which helps me to interpret what I see.

I may go back to painting portraits again. I would choose older people as subjects, including myself. As a general principle I believe that as we grow older we care less and less how other people see us. Oscar Wilde knew a thing or two about people.

We are bombarded on all the media with young women. The more beautiful they are, the more they look like inhuman dolls to me, except for the very few who have a character of their own. Very rarely do I find out anything about them. If I see a beautiful woman who is not wearing the usual uniform of ridiculously high heels, long hair flying around their faces and necks, with skirts so short that they can scarcely be seen, I know that such a person has the courage to dress as she pleases not just to please other people.

I like to sit with a cup of coffee in Waitrose and enjoy reading faces. The most interesting are the very young and the old. Most people in these categories are not self-conscious which means they are not seeking attention. Being a writer I make up little stories about them. If you want to understand people here are a few tips on what to look for:

Small children: Notice their energy levels, they vary a lot. Nowadays parents allow far more freedom than when I was a child. This is a good thing. Most of the children I watch do exactly what they want to do. They look straight into any eyes they like. They may respond to me or not. I can soon see which are the more outgoing and which ones might turn into ‘stuck-insiders’.

Ageing people are the most interesting. Unlike Dorian Gray’s Picture, their past life shows very clearly in their faces. The two main categories are stuck-insiders and individuals who still know how to enjoy life. The withdrawn ones usually have what I call ‘dead eyes’. They notice nothing except anything that annoys them. The ones who clearly enjoy life have bright eyes and notice what they want to see. These are the ones I would like to paint because they have grown into their own selves.

Behaviour Power and Control Psychotherapy

What Type Of Controller Are YOU?

There are two kinds of controllers. The first kind is one who puts the desire to please others at all times before honesty and his own well-being. Such people initially overwhelm you with charm but gradually make you feel uneasy in their presence because you are not dealing with the real person. You are face to face with a mask. You sense the underlying lack of sincerity and feel worse after spending time with them. This is the more subtle kind of control.

The second type has a compulsive need to always be right. All dictators, benevolent or otherwise, come into this category. When taken to the worst extreme of the effort to convert, the final solution is imprisonment, torture and death. Think of the Holocaust, think of the Spanish Inquisition.

We want to control others when our own lives appear to be out of control. We all feel like this sometimes. The most obvious example is when we encourage our children to do well in all subjects at school, instead of letting them get on with the lessons they like best. A common belief is that the more ‘education’ our children have the greater the opportunities for them to get a good job and do well. It is true that children need some guidance, but it is better to wait until they ask for help, and even then we must be careful to respect the childrens’ individual gifts and ambitions.

When working with clients, we psychotherapists have the responsibility to avoid trying to change their lives on their behalf. That is for them alone to do. This is why patience and a good sense of timing are essential qualities in a professional therapist.

Bigots, victims and martyrs also exert pressure on us to believe that this is what they are and they cannot be changed. As in everything, there is a sound reason for such harmful ideas, sunk deep in their unconscious minds. They need to hang on to their beliefs like a man on a sinking ship. If they give them up they are sunk.

Fear is one of the most powerful of all human emotions and the most deadly. All controllers work from this basic belief that we must never take risks but must always do as we are told. This is their way to try to keep everyone they come into contact with, SAFE. Could you imagine anything more stultifying?

(This article is based on an extract from Dr Jean Pain’s book “So you Want to be a Therapist”).

Behaviour Psychotherapy Self Esteem

So Ordinary

Harvey Sacks’ lectures were not prepared. They were delivered ad hoc in ordinary everyday language, which is very encouraging to those of us who are used to reading academic treatises full of special words we don’t understand. Yet paradoxically, its very strangeness surprises us and makes us work hard to see what he is aiming at.

Much of what he says we haven’t heard anywhere else because he was working from sets of human behaviour that he had observed and had not taken for granted. For example when we are in a different group of people we adapt ourselves to the unwritten rules of that group without even realising what we are doing.

Whenever I went to a conference to find out more about psychotherapy I found myself floundering in the group exercises because I hadn’t the faintest idea of what these hidden rules were. Whenever I came up with a response of my own I always heard cries of “This is not what we are talking about!” and I did not know why I should be denied to come up with my own ideas.

Sacks wrote a lecture called “Doing being Ordinary”. This at once threw light on my dilemma. I never learned as a child to fit in anywhere, because my parents left me to my own devices or told me things that seemed so ridiculously childish that I took no notice of them. Neither did I want to join in any kind of group because they never fitted in with what I wanted to do, so I learned to be myself and to act that way to whoever I might be talking to. My book “Boadicea’s Chariot” is about my childhood experiences and clearly explains what I am trying to say here.

Sacks points out that circumstances alter rules about conversation. We all have a job to do which enables us to create different kinds of rules for how we fill in our time.

People who are as independent as I am are categorised as eccentrics because they have found there own way to live and their own work to do. When I consider the small number of what I call ‘real friends’, these are the ones we keep forever even when we rarely meet and even after they have died. I realised in due time that the complete freedom of speech between us is what I value most.

So how can we learn to “Do being Ordinary”? If we have different ways of being and doing ordinary what do we do when we come up with a completely new kind of person? We can say what we like as in my article called “Stranger”.

I end with a story. When I became a psychotherapist I was determined to work only with people who were willing to come to terms with themselves. I noticed that those who did not would play all the games they could think up to avoid taking responsibility for themselves.

When clients came for the first time, I spoke to them as I would have done with any stranger with the sole exception that I would take into account their emotional state by close observation so that I could understand it better.

I worked with a lady who did not value herself enough. She was also making a good recovery from an operation for cancer. I don’t know what I did. Like Sacks I let myself respond to her in a way that would, hopefully, do her no harm. I took a great liking to her from the first time I met her. That made it easy for me. Clients are not fools. They soon find out how you feel about them. Our work was very successful. It took quite a while until she felt confident enough to look after herself. Towards the end of our work she suddenly said, in tones of astonishment “I don’t know what you did but I feel like a different person. I can’t believe it. After all you are just an ordinary person!” “Quite right” I said. It was one of the best things anyone said to me, that just by being myself I could have had such an effect on another person.

Behaviour Psychotherapy

Yes But, No But…

One of the very best books about human relationships is called “The Games People Play”. It was first published by Dr Eric Berne in 1964. Dr Berne called his method of doing psychotherapy Transactional Analysis. It was enormously popular in the United States. Unlike most books about psychotherapy he became a best-seller. It is not surprising. You don’t have to know anything about psychology to read it. It is hilariously funny and at the same time very serious. It is amazing that his method has not become the most popular in Great Britain.

It is all about the devices we humans dream up to get our own way. We are all vulnerable to flattery though some of us are more so than others. If we want to get good results as a psychotherapist we need to know how to deal with all kinds of strategies that our clients try out on us. Here are two examples:

“Gee you’re wonderful professor!” Years ago when I was a bookseller and spent many happy week-ends with a group of friends in hotels in different cities in the UK looking for books and selling my own. I was very popular. I was always being asked to go for coffee with my male colleagues. A new friend was sardonically watching me. He said “Why does everyone like you? Haven’t you got any enemies?” Needless to say I didn’t know what to say. I was dumbstruck.

“Why does this happen?” I said. “Because you have a halo round your head and on it is written in large letters ‘MOTHER’.” Just what many men and women are looking for: only they don’t realise it. Nor did I.

I remembered what he said. I didn’t like everybody and I ought to behave accordingly. I soon collected a few enemies. I felt better. Thirty years on he is now an old friend.

When I began my work as a therapist I met several clients who responded to me as my bookseller friends did. But I knew what to do to take the attention away from me and get them to do the work for themselves.

After the first few visits, some clients, both men and women said “I love working with you. I can’t wait for the days to pass so I can come again.” This is an example of “Gee you’re wonderful professor!” It is vital that a therapist must deal with this, or you would never get anywhere with such a person. My response was “Don’t you believe it!” Once we got down to serious work some stopped coming early and a few stopped putting me on a pedestal, learned to take care of themselves and didn’t need Mummy any more.

The second example is “Yes but”. It is commonplace in psychotherapy. One client had been to me for 4/5 sessions. Usually people will take up something each time, go away and think about it.

There are people, believe it or not, who pay good money to psychotherapists to prove them wrong. This one went back to the beginning every time. When we got to the sixth session I challenged him. “You don’t really want to change, do you?”

“Yes I do!” So I went on offering him some alternatives, as I had done before and every time he rejected it with the words “Yes but”. Then I stopped. “I’m feeling very frustrated” I said. “Why should you feel frustrated? All you’ve got to do is sit and listen” he said. I replied “Let’s switch roles. You’re Jean and I’m you.” He found it very difficult. ”Go on then. You must know by now what I say.” So he started off and every time he made a suggestion I said “Yes but”. I could see he was getting angrier and angrier. At last I said “How do you feel?” “Very frustrated.” “Now you know that’s how I feel when someone says “yes but” over and over again.” He didn’t come back, to my relief. You can’t force people to respond. He wasn’t ready to face his problems. At least he had learned something about how other people feel.