A Life Examined

It was with regret that I missed attending a unique ‘recovery’ conference at UCC on Wednesday, 10th November last. The fact that the conference was held in honour of the late Dr. Michael Corry, Psychiatrist and Humanistic Psychotherapist is also a source of regret for me. For as many years as I can remember during my thirty years working as a clinical psychologist Michael Corry passionately and compassionately spoke and wrote on the need for an understanding of and a psycho-social approach to individuals who presented with profound inner turmoil. His partner and colleague Dr. Aine Tubridy thankfully echoes his words when she said at the Conference that “it is time to recognise mental health problems come as a result of trauma, lack of love, difficult childhoods and situations and not because of a ‘broken brain.’ People with mental health problems need compassion and love and not a system based on fear and medication.”

My own approach views people’s distress as a creative response to neglects experienced, not deliberately perpetuated by those who were responsible for their care, but arising from unresolved ‘neglect’ from their own childhoods. When individuals have been deeply hurt and abandoned, they unconsciously resort to ways of lessening the threat to their wellbeing, devise ways to get attention by any means possible and create emotional, social, behavioural and physical symptoms that hopefully, will draw the attention of some mature adult to their sad plight. The reality is that these symptoms are frequently flown in vain, often leading to an escalation in their intensity.

There are two words that need especial attention from the foregoing – unconscious and maturity.  These two states of being are closely linked because, unless the conflicts that lie in the unconscious come to consciousness, no progress towards individual maturity is possible.

An essential requirement of any person who chooses to help a fellow human being who is in considerable inner turmoil is to acknowledge that much of human behaviour is formed at an unconscious level. This covert formation is wise, because it would be too painful to consciously acknowledge on waking each day the fear or terror of abandonment and the sources of these emotions. Unless compassion, unconditional love, understanding, belief in and patience are present for the individual in distress, he will remain hidden behind the walls of his unconsciously formed defences. Certainly, Michael Corry believed that the relationship with the person seeking help is the core aspect of therapy. After all, if it is a lack of loving that is the source of all human problems, then it stands to reason that it is the presence of loving that creates the emotional safety for the person to emerge from his hiding place and experience the joy of being found.

The therapeutic process outlined is only possible when those in the caring profession have reached a high degree of personal maturity and know how to continue to deepen that quest. Sadly, the quest for maturity is not seen as an essential responsibility, especially for those who have leadership or managerial roles – doctors, psychiatrists, priests, bishops, teachers, parents, politicians, employers and work managers. The reality is that without such maturity a person is not in a solid place to help another; indeed, this person may require more help than the person he is helping. Furthermore, unless the blocks that exist to such maturity come to consciousness, then no progress down the road less travelled to maturity is possible. There are none of us who do not have unresolved issues hidden away within us and it can take a caring colleague or, indeed, the person seeking our help, to alert us to what lies hidden.

I do not believe any caring professional wants to dehumanise, discriminate against or be abusive towards individuals in emotional pain. However, when such behaviours are present and nobody is challenging this situation, it means that maturity is absent and everybody needs help, care professionals along with their clients. Whilst it is a professional requirement that psychoanalysts and psychotherapists undergo therapy for themselves, this examination of self is not a requirement for other healthcare professionals – to the detriment of all, including the professionals themselves.

No matter what one’s profession is, one’s level of personal maturity is what most determines one’s professional  effectiveness and this is most evident with healthcare professionals, politicians, educators and work organisation managers. Opportunities need to be created for all of these key figures to examine their lives. Dr. Michael Corry dared to do this and remains a role-model for healthcare professionals.

Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a clinical psychologist, is an author and national and international speaker. The Compassionate Intentions of Illness is relevant to this article.