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.

Children Education

Saussure, Wittgenstein and Harvey Sacks

Saussure, Wittgenstein and Harvey Sacks did not prepare lectures. They went straight into the classroom and started to talk. Of course they were teaching in universities to young grown-ups who already had a stock of knowledge picked up from schools. However, the way that these three men worked must have come as something of a shock to their students. They were all treated as researchers, continuously picking up new thoughts and possibilities as they went along, being free to be able to think and make notes about what was being said and sometimes to respond in their own ways to their teachers.

These three men treated every lecture as a continuation of ongoing discoveries. I was particularly impressed by Wittgenstein, who thought out loud and often showed his feelings and frustration because the work he was doing was so hard. It must have been very encouraging for his students that the great man could also suffer as they suffered when they came across blocks as all researchers do.

How I envied that method when I first found out about it! I would love to have sat at Sacks’ feet and heard everything straight from his mouth! However at that time my university degree was behind me and I was in South America with my young family and I didn’t know about Sacks until decades later.

Another unorthodox aspect of such teaching was that all three men published very few books. They were too busy thinking and learning. Indeed, Saussure’s students took on the task, after his death, to put together from notes taken during lectures and publish what they had learned from him. Similarly, one of Harvey Sacks women students, Gail Jefferson, had the foresight to tape-record and transcribe most of his lectures and published them in a hefty volume. Introductions to each of the two parts were written by Sacks’ close friend and colleague, Emanuel A. Schegloff.

Clearly, such a method would not be suitable for children. They need more guidance, but nevertheless, education would work better when children were encouraged to take part themselves instead of having to be talked at instead of with. The best teachers have always done that as I have heard from my own children and others who experienced the same approach. You can’t put teaching into a straitjacket and expect to produce creative and enthusiastic pupils for the benefit of all our futures.

Behaviour Children Education

Perfection is a Waste of Time

You won’t believe this but Ofsted has interfered so much in education, with pressure from the government, that at the beginning of each new academic year all teachers in comprehensive schools are obliged to attend the day before to be taught how to teach no matter how much or how little experience they have had. The result is that many of the best teachers feel very frustrated and look for another job or take the earliest retirement they can whilst the worst, who don’t mind being told what to do, stay on. The truth is that teaching, like writing, music and all kinds of creative activities are inherited abilities, just as we all have the mental capacity to be able to learn to speak and we all learn to do so in our own individual way.

So it follows that the the best teachers have their own methods learned from their own inherited talents and experiences. Three of the greatest in the field of language, Saussure, Wittgenstein and Harvey Sacks, were all innovators. They were from different countries: Saussure was Swiss, Wittgenstein was German and Sacks was American. Saussure discovered that words are signs and symbols that stand for all things, people and ideas. Wittgenstein taught us that the meaning of words depends on the contexts in which the words are used and Sacks agreed with Wittgenstein and contributed his work on Conversation Analysis in all social talk in many situations.

Could you imagine any of these great men allowing anyone to tell them what to do? Certainly not. We should show the same respect to our teachers as was the case before the 1950’s when I was at school. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Standards have dropped drastically. Useful subjects are largely left out, especially English grammar, Latin and foreign languages. Note these are all the humanities on which we build the foundations of our ability to think clearly and understand human nature and the bases of our own cultures.

We must not let ourselves be taken in by examination results. Anyone who wants to can rig them and they do. Who are making the judgements? Many of those whose education has suffered from the constantly lowering standards of the last few decades. They are the people who think they are right and that there is only one way of doing things according to their own prejudices.

More than ever standards are dropping in the fine arts.

However it is not all doom and gloom. For example, no-one tells conductors what to do yet they work in perfect harmony and this is recognised by the constantly filled Halls of the most popular music, including those from the past as well as the present.

Simon Rattle is, I think, one of the best. On the radio he was asked the question “How do you manage the orchestra?” His answer was “I’m constantly challenging the orchestra to do better. But they are also challenging me, so it’s a series of continual failures.”

This is a sharp reminder that nothing is perfect. All researchers have to bear this in mind. We learn more from our failures than from our successes. The more times we get something wrong the further we move towards success. What do we do when that is over? All who are worth their salt start to look for a further challenge.

Conversation Analysis How To Use Words

Is Talking Good For You?

We take talking for granted because, most of the time, it seems to flow easily from our lips without our having to think about it. In fact there is a lot going on in conversation of which we are not aware. Thr first person to realise that the grammar of conversation is worth exploring was a genius called Harvey Sacks, the discovery of Conversation analysis.

Jean Pain, a linguist and psychotherapist in private practice, has just published a book “Not Just Talking” inspired by Sacks’ work. She wanted to know what goes on in the therapeutic dialogue. This book is not only for therapists. She wants to demonstrate to all those people who think psychotherapy is “Just Talking” that the power of the therapeutic dialogue, when it is used to full effect, has been seriously underrated. Moreover, all who want to improve their own ways of talking with others, will find this book very useful.

Well versed in the study of the best writers in English Literature and a keen observer of people and their actions, Jean realised that what she was really doing with her clients was teaching them to think for themselves by setting a good example. She went back to two universities, Manchester Metropolitan for her M.A. and Brunel for her PhD. Both taught Conversation Analysis.

Jean’s research is based on transcriptions from live therapy talks with her clients. The first step is gaining the trust of clients, an art in itself. Then clients begin to talk. When we have problems we tend to tell the same story in the same way to others. The words we use do not vary much. Little phrases like “I don’t know” can be cover-ups for “I don’t want to tell you” or “I’m scared, help me!” Jean listened carefully and whenever clients used ambivalent words and phrases, she encouraged them to express themselves in a more precise way. By changing the way they talked clients began to look at their problems from a clearer angle.

It happened that when clients were willing and able to benefit from Jean’s approach they began to work things out for themselves in a more helpful way. She realised that what clients say is less important then why and how they say it. Strong emotions, common to all of us when we are confused and unhappy, get in the way of clear thinking. Once we gain control over our powerful feelings and stop going round in circles trying to find answers, only then can we begin to think straight.

Jean’s method can be helpful for all who have difficulties getting on with themselves and other people. Much blaming occurs when people refuse to accept that most of their troubles arise from their attitudes to life.

This book is the foundation of Jean’s research discoveries. She continues to research a variety of situations such as “Talking with Children” and “Talking in close relationships”.They are all relevant for everyone who gets into difficulties in conversations and does not know why.

Conversation Analysis

Conversation Analysis

We talk to each other without being aware of what we are doing. As a result what goes on in conversations can be a major cause of misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and above all a lack of mutually useful cooperation. This is reflected in the fact that despite all the technological advantages of our times, more and more people are dissatisfied with their lives and seek psychological help to find out why.

Dr Pain is the first practising psychotherapist to have completed an analysis of the ongoing and continuously changing structure of therapeutic talk (she was awarded a PhD in Conversation Analysis by Brunel University in 2003). She found that the major factor for clients is that they learn to make changes in their thinking, through learning to use conversation more effectively.

Moreover, those facets of therapy talk, which is very different from everyday talk, can be applied to other domains such as family relationships, teaching and business. The key to effective cooperation, as distinct from one person trying to coerce another, is the establishment of a situation where both participants use conversation to learn from each other in an ongoing creative way.

Effective therapists do not give advice or impose their own preconceived ideas on another person. What happens is each client is respected as a unique individual, and helped to think for themselves so that they develop the ability to discover what they are doing that causes problems and work out for themselves how they can make changes. For this to happen, therapists need to have both professional training plus such skills as the ability to listen and to know when to intervene.

Jean Pain realised that all conversation could be improved by the taking on board of some of the devices that work in a therapy situation as revealed in her research. The aim of our work is to help people, whoever they are, to gain awareness of what they do in talk that they do not know they are doing. Only then can they become aware of what changes they need to make.

Once these principles have been learned, we can use them to change both the way we talk to others and how we respond to what others say to us. We can then achieve mutually satisfying results in our interchanges with others in whatever situation we find ourselves, whether it be in close personal relationships, in business, in teaching, or in the joint exploration of problems.

There is, of course, no universal panacea. What matters is that we can develop a more open-minded attitude towards each other’s different ideas that could lead to an improvement in the nature of cooperation from an activity where, more often than not, two or more people are struggling to get the best deal for themselves individually, to one from which all participants can benefit.