Blog Post No.132
Reposted on 1st June 2016 (Originally posted on Monday 12th October 2015)
Updated on 28th February 2020
Copyright © Jim Byrne, 2015-2020
Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: A counsellor blogs about three processes commonly found in E-CENT counselling…
Counselling and therapy, with a good therapist, offers a wonderful chance to have a better, happier, more meaningful life. But people pass by this opportunity all too easily, on the way to the pub; the cake shop; the sweet shop; or one thousand and one other distractions and diversions.
I have often discussed with Renata the barriers that people put in the way of doing their therapy – of cleaning up their childhood history – and of learning to relate in the present moment in a loving and enjoyable way. Here is one of the biggest barriers to entering counselling and therapy, as outlined by M. Scott Peck:
“Entering psychotherapy is an act of the greatest courage. The primary reason people do not undergo psychotherapy is not that they lack the money but that they lack the courage. This even includes many (counsellors/ psychotherapists and) psychiatrists themselves, who somehow never quite seem to find it convenient to enter their own therapy…” In general, psychotherapy clients are much stronger and healthier than the average.
My aim in this blog post is to help you to get a flavour of what it would be like to engage in E-CENT counselling, coaching or psychotherapy.
Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT), and E-CENT counselling and coaching, do not follow a rigid session structure. We tailor our guidance, support and teaching to the needs of the individual client.
We do have a range of classic models that we use, and an equally extensive range of guiding principles. But it often happens that a particular format emerges in our sessions (say, somewhat more than fifty percent of the time); which has the following three major elements:
- Affirmation of the client’s perceptions and feelings
When a new client arrives with an emotionally disturbing problem, we do not try to talk the client out of their perceptions and feelings. We take it as read that their reactions are proportionate to the problem as they see it. We look at them and their problems with the eyes of emotional empathy and understanding. We engage in non-possessive caring, like many client-centred counsellors do. But we go further in affirming the client as an emotional being. We follow the guidance of Dr Robert Hobson in that we speak to our clients in a ‘feeling language’.
“The language of the world of things is literal and discursive (or cool and logical) whereas person-talk calls for a ‘language of the heart’, which I term feeling-language. In order to ‘disclose’ to someone what I mean … I would have to tell stories … first one story, then another story … until ‘the penny drops’. … (This) calls for a language which is more akin to an art form…: A language not of ‘facts’ but of feeling”.
We seek to re-parent and befriend our clients, in a specific, professional way; again as influenced by Robert Hobson:
“Ian Suttie … regarded psychotherapy as a quest for a ‘companionship’ with the client. He drew attention to the embarrassed ‘taboo on tenderness’ which scares us all, especially ‘scientific’ psychotherapists. There is no more effective barrier to treatment (in counselling and therapy). Tenderness is akin to that of the loving relationship between the child and mother which is formed ‘with the intention of severance’. The therapist needs to be a ‘mother’ (and a ‘father’), but s/he must move towards ‘friendship’, a more equal personal relationship”. (Page 212).
By affirming our clients as they are, we create trust and hope and we often stimulate their capacity to love, which they apply in their relationships back home. This is discussed by Hobson like this:
“The infant has potentialities to develop complex modes of experience and diverse patterns of behaviour. These inborn tendencies need to be activated (made ‘actual’) by people and things in his environment. Of crucial importance is the capacity to form rewarding attachments to particular persons, first to the mother and then to other people. The success of psychotherapy, the well-being of any society, and perhaps the future of mankind, depends upon whether or not, and under what conditions, love can grow”. (Page 151).
As pointed out by Dr David Wallin, if this does not happen in the client’s actual childhood, then the develop insecure attachment style; but their brain-mind remains malleable, and they can get this missing ‘secure base’ in counselling and therapy relationships, during their adult lives:
“Very much as the original attachment relationship(s) (with mother and father) allowed the child to develop, it is ultimately the new relationship of attachment with the (counsellor) that allows the (client) to change. To paraphrase Bowlby (1988), such a relationship provides a secure base that enables the (client) to take the risk of feeling what s/he is not supposed to feel and knowing what s/he is not supposed to know”. (Wallin, page 3).
E-CENT counselling and therapy provide a relationship within which to explore problems of personal relationships. Again, we have been influenced by the views of Robert Hobson:
“Problems in personal relationships cannot be solved by talking about them, by explaining them from outside. They can only be explored and tackled effectively in the experience of being within a relationship”. (Hobson, Page 183). The counsellor’s role is to provide a ‘secure space’, and also to promote autonomy of the client.
So we work at developing our relationships with our clients; to become a secure base for them; to affirm them; and to help them to develop a secure attachment to us. But at some point, sooner or later, we move on to exploring a range of ways of looking at the client’s problems.
- Exploring a range of different interpretations
Folk-psychology (or ‘common sense’) misleads counselling clients into thinking that ‘what they see is all there is’; and that they have the capacity to see ‘reality’ directly. This is not how philosophers and psychologists understand the world.
I have written about this in the introduction to one of my articles on how to look at any problem from several different perspectives. This is what I wrote: “We do not see with our eyes so much as with our brains. Eyes are part of the machinery of perception, but the decisions (or judgement) about ‘what it is’ that we see are not made by our eyes.
Those decisions are made by our ‘stored experiences’ driving our ‘judgements’. We do not see ‘external events’ so much with our eyes, then, as we see them through ‘frames of reference and interpretation’ which were created in the past, and which we now implement as habit-based stimulus-response pairings. Or we could call these responses ‘pattern matching’ processes. We non-consciously conclude: ‘I’ve seen this stimulus (or ‘external event’) before. This (particular interpretation) is the sense I made of it last time. So that is how I have to relate to it this time’.”
So, when our clients come to see us, we know they will have their own interpretations of their experiences, and some of those interpretations will be unhelpful, and actually emotionally disturbing for them.
E-CENT counselling teaches that there are many helpful perspectives on life, some of which come from Buddhism and some from Stoic philosophy. One of those perspectives was popularized in the 1980s by M. Scott Peck. This is it: “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters”. (Scott Peck, 1990, page 13).
So we teach that life is difficult, and that it has to be faced. We try to help our clients to loosen their interpretations; to explore their stories; to create new narrative. This can be seen to be a ‘playful’ process, as described by Robert Hobson, who writes that:
“Donald Winnicott speaks of (counselling and) psychotherapy as a means of bringing someone into a state of being able to play, when previously this had been impossible. In play, there is a childlike (but yet also adult) dissolution, reconstruction, and re-organization of memories, experiences, and events”. (Hobson, page 243).
In the playfulness of exploring narratives of your earlier life, you may have the startling but gratifying experience of creating a new life for yourself (because it is newly interpreted).
But it is rare that you can do this without facing up to some buried pain from the past. Some pain that hurts, but does not kill!
- Helping the client to digest previously undigested experiences
Freud knew that we need to put some problems on one side, when we are young, because we do not feel strong enough to process them. But we need to return to those problems when we are older. We have to eventually digest them, chew them up, so we can be rid of their negative effects on our non-conscious functioning in the here and now.
E-CENT counselling teaches that life is difficult, but that you have to face up to the difficulty – to both experience it and reframe it – in order to make it ‘go away’. According to Scott Peck: “What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one. Problems, depending upon their nature, evoke in us frustration or grief or sadness or loneliness or guilt or regret or anger, or fear or anxiety or anguish or despair. These are uncomfortable feelings, often very uncomfortable, often as painful as any kind of physical pain, sometimes equalling the very worst kind of physical pain. Indeed, it is because of the pain that events or conflicts engender in us that we call them problems. And since life poses an endless series of problems, life is always difficult and is full of pain as well as joy”. (Page 14).
E-CENT counselling advocates ‘completing our experience’ of difficulties in our lives. The sooner we face up to the pain in our lives – the difficult parts, that involve some suffering – and process it, and digest it, the sooner we can get on with the pleasant and enjoyable parts:
In 2011, I wrote a paper on the importance of not just reframing your experience, so it look less threatening or frustrating or depressing; but also of completing your experience, by ‘allowing it to be’; ‘facing up to it’; ‘digesting it’; and feeling the pain. This is how that paper began:
“You cannot find peace by avoiding life”. Virginia Woolf
“Whatever you resist persists”. Werner Erhard
The core of the theory and practice of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT) is built around the concept of “reframing your experience” of life, so that it will show up in a more tolerable and bearable way than if you frame it illogically and unreasonably. Normally the client knows what the problem is. It is available to their conscious awareness. And the E-CENT counsellor encourages them to look at it through a variety of ‘lenses’ or ‘windows’, so they can see it differently. (Byrne, 2009b).
On the other hand, sometimes a client may have a problem buried in their past, about which they know nothing, and this buried problem – this ‘denied pain’ – is the main driver of their current depression, anxiety, panic, or anger. With these kinds of archaic problems of repression, we use techniques related to the concept of “digging up” and “completing” that archaic experience; of “digesting it”; so it can be filed away in an inactive file, in the background of their life, where it cannot cause them any more psychological problems.
When we are vulnerable children, a certain amount of denial of pain is helpful for survival; but this strategy of denial has to be abandoned in adulthood, and we have to face up to the truth of where we began, and what we experienced, and how it hurt or harmed us at that time. Only then can we burn it up in the glare of consciousness; and file it away in inactive files in long-term memory; where it will no longer bother us.
As M. Scott Peck argues: “…Let us teach ourselves and our children the necessity for suffering and the value thereof; the need to face problems directly and to experience the pain involved. I have stated that discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. It will become clear that these tools are techniques of suffering, means by which we experience the pain of problems in such a way as to work them through and solve them successfully, learning and growing in the process. When we teach ourselves and our children discipline, we are teaching them and ourselves how to suffer and also how to grow”. (Page 15).
When we try to resist unavoidable pain – necessary pain, such as the pain of an actual loss – we get stuck with it. When we face up to it, and fully experience it – digest it – it can then dissolve and disappear over time.
So, it clearly takes courage to come to counselling and therapy. It can be a bit like going to the dentist. But you would not let your teeth rot to avoid the pain of the dental exam; so why let your heart and mind rot because of your fear of facing up to legitimate emotional grief, or hurt, or sadness?
If you are ready to do your therapy now, and you want to explore what Renata and I have to offer, then please take a look at:
I hope you find this blog post helpful.
Dr Jim Byrne
ABC Coaching and Counselling Services
 M. Scott Peck (1990) The Road Less Travelled: The new psychology of love, traditional values and spiritual growth. Pages 55-56. (112)
 Robert F. Hobson, Forms of Feeling: The heart of psychotherapy, Page 20. (25)
 Dr David Wallin, Attachment in Psychotherapy, 2007, page 3.
 Dr Jim Byrne, An Introduction to the Windows Model of E-CENT, http://www.abc-counselling.com/id174.html
 Dr Jim Byrne (2011) E-CENT Paper No.13: Completing your past experience of difficult events, perceptions, and painful emotions. http://www.abc-counselling.com/id356.html