The Taunton Association for Psychotherapy annual conference was held on Saturday 18th March, with the title “Cutting Edge Connections Between Spirituality and Psychotherapy.’ Both these disciplines involve an investigation into what gives individuals meaning and purpose. In recent years the overlaps between the two have attracted more interest than was the case even thirty years ago.
In 1999 the Royal College of Psychiatry -a scientific body-formed a Special Interest Group (SIG) on spirituality and today it is the largest SIG. Mental health and spirituality used to separate and now there is more recognition of their connections. One of our speakers, Larry Culliford, who is both a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist, played a part in setting it up.
Other developments in the wider world have caused some re-assessment of that split. Near Death Experiences, of which we now have thousands of accounts, point to the possibility of consciousness existing apart from the brain.
Secondly, consciousness is thought by some scientists to be a factor in quantum physics in ways which are not yet fully understood.
The conference speakers addressed the relevance of the subject to practitioners.
The first speaker was Melody Cranbourne-Rosser, recent Chair of the Spirituality division of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, and a Senior Lecturer at the University of South Wales. Her presentation was called ‘Spirituality; Necessity or Nonsense.’ She explored the difficulties of defining the term, which involves the relationship to one’s inner self and reaches beyond the self and others in the transcendent realms of experience. She drew attention to the recent research; particularly the benefits of spirituality to mental health. There is, however, also a down side, such as the effects of ‘spiritual abuse’ experienced by some people in cults for example.
Spiritual expression can take many forms ranging from acts of compassion and yoga to meditation or faith based activities. It can take an important role at the end of life and it is important that psychiatric and medical staff are sensitive to the religious, cultural and spiritual needs of a diverse population. It is important to engage with the whole person but there is still a way to go before it becomes generally accepted.
Larry Culliford gave a rich presentation and tackled several forms which we can only indicate here. One was the role of suffering and the process of healing and growth. Secondly, he explained the research of James Fowler’s stages of faith and how it can change from simple responses to spiritual maturity and the problems of transition between the stages. Some of the fruits of spiritual maturity include living spontaneously and compassionately, putting values about material gain, an acceptance of people on the same path but from a different tradition. a sense of harmony and other things. It is a journey, not a destination.
The speaker presentations are available to download from our Annual Conference page HERE.
Our thanks to all the participants and those behind the scenes who helped make the day run smoothly. The subject for next year's conference is already under discussion, and if you have any thoughts please do get in touch.
by Ian Stevenson
This year's TAP Conference, which takes place on 18th March, is headlined Cutting Edge Connections between Spirituality and Psychotherapy and features top speakers Melody Cranborne Rosser and Larry Culliford. (Find out more and book HERE) But what do we mean by 'cutting edge'? Here long-time TAP Council member Ian Stevenson puts forward his thoughts....
What is 'cutting edge spirituality'? It’s a good question. Just before the last OFSTED inspection I had to endure, the Head shared a worry. “In the last inspection, the lay assessor said he saw little spirituality in the school. What did he mean and how can we improve on it?’
There were various answers: ‘a sense of awe’ said the Head of Science, who was a churchgoer; a sense of community; having prayers in Assembly (we didn’t do that very often) and encouraging moral behaviour. Personally, I think we have other words for these things. To me, spirituality implies something meta-physical, something beyond the material world. (As it turned out, it was not commented on in the inspection.)
Is Spirituality just a nice idea or do we have reasons for thinking it is more than that?
In my youth, 1960s, spirituality more or less equaled religion. When, as a new teacher, we took information on pupils for registers there was a box marked religion. Many children said, ‘I’ll have to ask.’ I was told, if uncertain, ‘Church of England’ would do!
Religion was something you believed in or not. There were a few who looked for a more empirical approach. The Society for Psychic Research, which goes back to 1882, investigated supernatural, or in more modern terms, para-normal phenomena. Despite a vast amount of data, few educated people gave it much credence. The end of the sixties did see what was dubbed “the New Age’, which was a bottom up exploration of new ideas in psychology and science blended with old teachings from around the world such as Buddhism. It ranged from the ridiculous to high philosophy. Carl Jung, who died in 1961, was the most quoted psychologist but there were others such as Maslow or Grof. However, the ‘New Age’ thinking was largely ignored by the educational and religious establishments even though ‘New Age’ books sold well. It was also ignored by the scientific world although meditation and yoga became popular albeit usually justified by its therapeutic properties.
New ideas often infiltrate themselves into public acceptance as the older generation passes on and a new generation looks for different answers to perennial questions. There were more university educated people looking for meaning and now they could glean information from a wide range of available resources thanks to modern communications. New leaders began to emerge.
For the last thirty years the Dalai Lama (who has endorsed one of our speakers’ -Larry Culliford-books) has held a conference at Dharamsala or elsewhere with Western scientists and they discuss their understandings of such subjects as meditation and neuroscience; the role of emotions, and the interface between modern physics and ancient wisdom. When they started, the Dalai Lama said if they showed something that Buddhism believed to be scientifically wrong, then Buddhism wold have to change. In fact they didn’t find anything.
In 1973 Dr Edgar Mitchell, the Apollo 14 astronaut, founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences. On the way back from the Moon, he had an experience of being part of ‘Universe of Consciousness’. Noetic means using intuitive knowledge. Together with the scientific (left brain?) approach, the Institute addresses the questions raised by the experience. He felt it could bring about a deeper understanding of who we really are and would help to bring people together.
In that same year, 1973, In Britain, George Blaker and several others founded the Scientific and Medical Network. They thought that neither orthodox religion nor conventional science could give adequate answers to ‘the mysteries of he Cosmos’. The materialist explanation of the brain didn’t seem to explain a lot of things. The SMN has numbered such people as -Dr. Mary Midgeley , Sir John Polkinghorn, Sir Crispin Tickell, Sir Roger Penrose and …me (to dilute it a bit )!
In 1999 Dr.Antony Powell at the Royal College of Psychiatrists formed a special interest group on Spirituality. Other groups include working with the elderly or in criminality. Today it is the largest special interest group and one can read their newsletter on the web. Our speaker, Larry Culliford was part of this.
I would also include Dr.Gary Schwatrz’s research in the US. We have probably seen on TV , Darren Browne who describes himself as a ‘mentalist’. He says he can replicate the results achieved by mediums and clairvoyants by using techniques such as cold reading. Schwartz put the mediums and the ‘sitters’ in different rooms where they could see or hear each other, and the mediums continued to get results. I have given a talk on this in Bristol. The work is criticised by some but I thought the criticisms were generalities and did not address the points raised.
So what has emerged to engage these very distinguished people? I could suggest several things but there are two main ones: the ability to investigate the brain in greater depth e.g. with fMRI, and the implications of that such as the near death experiences ; 2) the greater understanding of quantum physics and how that relates to consciousness.
Some quantum physicists see consciousness as a fundamental property of the universe and not something produced by the brain, but rather mediated by it as a radio is not the origin of a program but the medium by which we hear it. This would imply we do indeed swim like fish in an ocean of consciousness.
These are raise exciting and fundamental questions as to who we really are but one may ask; what has this to do with counselling and psychotherapy? We do things like finding out what is of meaning to our clients and helping them to have a better relationship with themselves and live more resourcefully. But what could a study of spirituality add?
This was a question when we first had brain scanning equipment. How would knowing which parts of the brain ‘light up’ when we experience certain emotions, actually influence therapy. But I think many would answer it has been , for many, a useful contribution. We gain a better understanding of who we are.
I suggest there are several areas it could influence.
We can look at evidence for a metaphysical ( beyond or above ) dimension and not just take it on faith. Of course, there are persuasive people who argue the opposite, like Daniel Dennett, but we have evidence we can assess, rather than believe it or not.
Our sense of connection with the wider universe. This is the traditional area of religion and philosophy, where the field of universal consciousness, or whatever you wish to call it, might influence us giving meaning and purpose to our lives. The study could enable one to see the different religions as tributaries flowing into a common stream. Surely of use in the modern world?
Spirituality suggests we are not separate collections of neutrons but individuals as having a part in the universe, and relationships with others and the natural world.
To end on a personal note, when I look at the neurological information and the ethics of spirituality in their several forms, I am reminded of Paul Gilbert’s Compassion Focused Therapy which we heard so ably presented by Dr. Christopher Irons in the 2013 conference . Those concepts have enhanced my practice.
One doesn’t need to accept all the concepts I’ve outlined here in order to derive some benefit from the study. My hope is that the conference won’t just be the delivery of information on the day but an encouragement to find out more.
We would love to know what you think - please do post comment below.
It is that time of year again (where does the time go?) when we ask members of TAP to pay their renewal fee. Over the years we have got to know hundreds of members from different fields coming from across the South West; most, but certainly not all, being therapists across all different modalities. We have also welcomed many who were simply interested in the mind and in the nature of being human. TAP has much to offer anybody with an enquiring mind.
The membership year runs from 1st April to 31st March, so this is a great time of year to get the full benefit of those opportunities TAP offers. As a member you get free entry into all our monthly TAP Talks for example, a discount on the cost of our annual conference (this year taking place on 21st May, see our Annual Conference page) and a place in our membership directory. Members can circulate details of their own courses and workshops to the TAP contact list, and get a 10% discount in Brendon Books in Bath Place, Taunton. A new benefit for 2016/17 will be launched in the next few weeks - a 'Members Only' area on this website, where exclusive content (featuring recordings of TAP Talks and presentations) will be available. We also have a Facebook and twitter feed (@TAP_ings) where you can keep abreast of developments and news and post about your own work.
So why not join? At £28 it is a bargain (if you were to attend all the Talks for example, and the Conference, you could save over £60) and you would also have the opportunity to network with peers, hear from speakers at the top of their field and gain CPD at the same time.
You can download the membership form HERE, and find out more on our 'Join TAP' page.
We look forward to meeting you!
Saturday 16th May saw more than 80 delegates attend the annual TAP Conference at Taunton Racecourse on the timely and important subject of sexual abuse.
Fay Maxted , CEO of the Survivors Trust, spoke first about statistics, dispelling some of the myths around rape and sexual violence; she went on to talk about the need for pre-trial therapy as a base line defined in the Youth Justice Criminal Evidence Act 1999. This area of work is much needed and soon to be supported further by an EU Directive. Faye outlined some of the changes now in place to support the victim of the crime of sexual violence and there is now a clearer pathway with support from Sexual Assault Referral Centres, Independent Sexual Violence Advisors, and multi-agency support alongside pre-trial therapy. Faye expanded on the role therapists have in providing pre-trial therapy, the importance of client notes, writing reports and being called to be a witness in court. We concluded the morning session looking at various scenarios from both the client and counsellor perspectives which was an illuminating process.
Following a good lunch we reconvened to listen to Zoe Lodrick speak on Understanding the Psychology of the Rape Offender. Zoe is an experienced speaker, training many of our Police Forces and Barristers on this subject. She spoke about the motivations to offend and the causes of an offender’s cognitive distortions. Zoe used every day analogies to illustrate how easy it can be for our own brain to distort when we want something, for example our desire for biscuits. She described the parallels between the offender and the victim’s own cognitive distortions, offering possible reasons why victims keep returning to an abuser time and again when our logical brain tells us that what is happening is wrong . She also examined why the majority of cases are either not reported or fail to come to court. Zoe informed us about the function of our brain in response to threat and why our clients may present with extreme anxiety/depression/PTSD when talking about these traumatic events in the counselling room.
Both our speakers delivered important information in an engaging manner on a current and difficult subject and were well received by a large audience. The speakers will be providing their notes for download on this website in the near future.
TAP is pleased to announce that after detailed discussions the theme and speakers for the 2015 conference have been finalised.
On Saturday the 16th May 2015, at Taunton Racecourse, we will be welcoming Fay Maxted and Zoe Lodrick to speak on the them 'Healing the trauma of sexual abuse', an issue that is at last being given the wider recognition many therapists have called for for years.
Fay Maxted is Chief Executive of The Survivor's Trust, a national umbrella agency for over 135 specialist rape, sexual violence and childhood sexual abuse support organisations throughout the UK and Ireland. It works to provide support and networking for member agencies; deliver accredited training; raise awareness about rape and sexual abuse and its effect on survivors, their supporters and society at large; promote effective responses to rape and sexual abuse on a local, regional and national level. Fay speaks regularly on the subject, and raises awareness of the issue in the media.
Zoe Lodrick has over 19 years experience of working therapeutically with women and men who have experienced sexualised trauma(s). She provides training and consultation to most police forces in England and Wales and to many other professionals including Judges, Magistrates, Lawyers, Forensic Medical Examiners (FMEs), Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVAs), Counsellors and Crisis Workers. She has been commissioned by a number of police forces and CPS areas to provide expert testimony, explaining victim behaviour in rape, kidnap and domestic abuse cases.
We are looking forward to hearing these two top flight speakers offer the benefit of their experience and offer much to think about and take away from the day.
As soon as the programme is finalised in the new year we will be sure to let you know. In the meantime, do get in touch if you would like to be put on our mailing list for receipt of conference booking details as soon as they are available.