Saturday, June 07, 2008

Going Beyond Those Games We All Play

I have mentioned many favourite writers, indeed many preferred heroes, in these pages before.  One who looms large in these pages, as any search will show, is none other that the famous American Physicist and Nobel Laureate for Physics namely Richard P. Feynman.  His book of collected letters, edited by his loving daughter Michelle Feynman, is called Don't You Have Time To Think? and it portrays a very rounded human being, a multidimensional character who while he was exceedingly brilliant at science and physics, was also open to the human dimension of life in a very congruent and sincere way.  He also worked hard at his relationships and at enjoying life.  These letters, while they reveal scientific insights, also reveal a man who had suffered much but who had learned to laugh and cry at the appropriate times, and to adopt a philosophic and open approach to life and to all people whom he met, no matter what their station in life was.  He was truly a great scientist for the world and for our human progress; he was also a great humanitarian; but, more than that, he was a great son, a great father, a great husband and a great grandfather.

However, I quite readily admit that I, among many other humans,  can rattle off a rather long list of heroes like the Dalai Lama, Pope John-Paul II, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King among many, many others.  One might even mention writers, poets and psychologists like James Joyce, Sam Beckett, Paddy Kavanagh, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.  I could go on too long with such lists that run around always in my mind somewhere in the background, but doing so would be such a tedious exercise.  I note immediately the absence of women from my list, but that is not intentional - just a cultural fact I believe, because women, who are mothers for the most part, have so much else to do as well as caring for the "other child" who is their husband as well as for their sons and daughters among many others.  They often do not have the luxury to be reading, writing and experimenting.  However, there are, of course, many women heroes ( Is it politically correct today to use the word "heroine"?)  I think of Princess Diana, Mother Theresa,  Anna Freud, Marie Curie and others too.

Anyway, what strikes me about those whom we, of necessity, must call heroes is that they, to my mind at least, have gone past the playing of psychological games - which, for the most part, are so destructive or at least so stunting of personal growth.  They appear to me to have transcended the field of play where most "ordinary" mortals are, while in so doing they show themselves to us as beings so true to self that they have no need to play childish games anymore.  Here, of course, I hasten to add, that I am referring to psychological games as outlined in my last four posts by the work of the great psychiatrist and psychotherapist Dr Eric Berne.

Among the many subjects Richard P. Feynman deals with in his letters is that of motherhood or mothers.  I'll let him speak for himself.  In the following letter he is writing to the mother of a scientist friend:

Dear Mrs Newman:

Well, what a pleasant surprise to get a letter of appreciation from the parents of a scientist.  I am glad to hear of how it looks from the point of view of a proud mother, who really doesn't understand what he is doing..  I know.  I had a wonderful proud mother who never understood what I was doing either.  How could "breaking my head" be fun?  And how can Tom, working so hard in the laboratory, be having fun?  But her support made my accomplishments possible - and I am sure it is the same for your family. (Richard P. Feynman, op. cit., 393)

I have also alluded to the point that Feynman was essentially Socratic in his approach to knowledge, that is, that he first admitted his ignorance firstly in any new specific area and then proceeded by scientific investigation from there.  A noble starting point, indeed.  Here is the famous mathematician and theoretical physicist showing us not just his humility but rather his Socratic approach to knowledge in a letter to a Venezuelan science teacher:

...I am sure of nothing and find myself having to say "I don't know" very often. (Ibid., 396)

And later in the same letter, he finishes  with the following greeting: "Good luck to you and your students, teaching each other." (Ibid., 396)  This short salutation contains a rather dynamic appreciation of what goes on in the teaching-learning process with its recognition of its being two-way rather than one-way!

Reading Richard's letter's has left me wishing that I had known this great man who was not alone a great scientist but a wonderful human being with insights into the mystery of life as it were.  Also I am left with a deep appreciation of this great human being's sense of fun in the enterprise we call life.  He throws off marvellous pieces of advice with utter integrity and a lightness of being viz., "...when you get older you find nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough." (ibid., 415) or this for a beautifully sensitive piece of advice to a father: "But the two of you - father and son - should take walks in the evening and talk (without purpose or routes) about this and that." (415)  Again there is a deep vein of wisdom in this piece of advice: "Don't think of what "you want to be," but what you "want to do." " (415)

He finishes this same letter to this worrying father with these marvellous words: "Stop worrying , Papa.  Your kid is wonderful.  Yours from another Papa of another wonderful kid." (416)


In all of these letters there are no poses being struck, no particular party lines being taken up or defended, no appeal to authorities of any rank whatsoever, only appeals to the priority of one's own search for meaning and to the truth or truths of life as they are manifested in one's own lived experience.  Indeed, Feynman had absolutely no time for authority qua authority - he follows wherever the lights of his own reason and intuition led him.  If that meant being unpopular so be it.  On point of principle he refused many honours including honorary doctorates as he felt the one he had earned at the early age of 24 was enough for him.  Nor did he believe in racial or territorial boundaries.  His letters show him admonishing in strong but polite terms those who wished to put on exhibitions on either Jewish or American scientists as being racist or discriminatory because science like truth belongs to the whole human race not to a particular race or to a specific country.  Our man Feynman, who was full of fun and games in the sense of real games which sought out fun, had no time for the petty psychological games which sought to score points at the expense of another human being.  I will return to Eric Berne's last chapter and quote these following lines which I believe Feynman managed to encapsulate in his approach to life:

For certain fortunate people there is something which transcends all classifications of behaviour, and that is awareness; something which rises above the programming of the past, and that is spontaneity; and something that is more rewarding than games, and that is intimacy. (Games People Play, 162)

To finish this post, I'd like to quote a lovely note Berne wrote on the difference between Mathematical and Transactional Games:

The reader should by now be in a position to appreciate the basic difference between mathematical and transactional game analysis.  Mathematical game analysis postulates players who are completely rational.  Transactional game analysis deals with games which are un-rational, or even irrational, and hence more real.  (Ibid., note on 152)

True friendship goes be yond psychological games! Above two TY students, Delphi, March 2006

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Games We (all) Play 4

In summary then, having distilled the last three posts, we may say that the heart of Transactional Analysis (TA) is that people play games with each other as a substitute for real intimacy, and every game, however unpleasant, has a particular pay-off for one or both players.

Briefly, TA asserts that our personality is made up of three ego states or three selves (or sub-personalities, if you wish) any one of which which we act out of at a particular time and, of course, which we may vary from one ego state to another on any given occasion.  These ego states, as we have already pointed out, correspond roughly to the three structural units of Freudian personality theory.  In other words, PAC or Parent, Adult and Child ego states correspond loosely to the Superego (Parent), Ego (Adult) and Id (Child).

Let's take a very common marital game, which Berne calls rather succinctly "if it weren't for you."  This game is common to all close relationships, not just marital ones.  It is a common occurrence between close friends of either or both sexes as well as between spouses.  It also happens between siblings and between parents and children.  I can illustrate it from a relationship I had with a former lover.  On the occasion when we broke up she said the following:  "I can blame C for this break-up and he can blame me for letting the relationship happen in the first place."  The woman had two sons, one of whom was bitterly opposed to our relationship for a number of reasons, one or two clear to me, but others very unclear - most likely unconscious reasons.  Anyway, both mother and sons were locked in a dysfunctional family where a number of people suffered from mental illness.  While this latter fact is important, the entanglement of strained relationships within that family structure all constellated around fear, mental illness, secrets, and blame, blame and more blame.  At one stage I had tried to get all the people in this drama into the same room to talk, but this was simply impossible.  They preferred to conduct their relationships on a hit-and-miss ad hoc basis.  At all times, I was aware of relating to a family, not to a person.  Anyway, this experience convinces me that Berne's "if it weren't for you" game is a common one.  Indeed, this whole family was a games family in more senses than one.  In fact, they were all chess players.

Berne calls this game a typical one in his book.  Let's let him describe an example of this game by way of complementing my own story above:

Mrs White complained that her husband severely restricted her social activities, so that she had never learned to dance.  Due to changes in her attitude brought about by psychiatric treatment, her husband became less sure of himself and more indulgent.  Mrs White was then free to enlarge the scope of her activities.  she signed up for dancing classes, and then discovered to her despair that she had a morbid fear of dance floors and had to abandon this project. 

This unfortunate adventure, along with similar ones, laid bear some important aspects of her marriage.  Out of her many suitors she had picked a domineering man for a husband.  She was then in a position to complain that she could do all sorts of things "if it weren't for you".  Many of her women friends also had domineering husbands, and when they met for their morning coffee, they spent a good deal of time playing "If It Weren't For Him."  (Games People Play, 45-46) 

In other words, Dr Berne is suggesting that most people unconsciously choose spouses, and I would argue friends also, because they want certain limits placed on them, just like Mrs White in the above story or myself in the previous story.  We readily blame the other person, possibly partner for what is more often than not revealed as an issue within ourselves.  By blaming the other we never really have to face our own fears and shortcomings.

Freud, we have already seen, had a dark and despairing view of humanity.  Likewise one could criticise Berne because his critique of human nature does seem bleak and forbidding.  However, he did see a positive return for becoming aware of the games that we and others play all too unconsciously.  In other words, Berne realised all too clearly that making our unconscious motives conscious (this is pure Freud - Berne was steeped in the Freudian tradition though he broke therefrom) or becoming conscious of the games we and others play, we can desist from playing them and choose to go for intimacy instead.  Part three of Games People Play is called "Beyond Games" and explores this possibility in depth.

I will finish this post by returning again to the last words of Dr Berne in his above mentioned book:

For certain fortunate people there is something which transcends all classifications of behaviour, and that is awareness; something which rises above the programming of the past, and that is spontaneity; and something that is more rewarding than games, and that is intimacy.  But all three of these may be frightening and even perilous to the unprepared.  Perhaps they are better off as they are, seeking their solutions in popular techniques of social action, such as 'togetherness'.  This may mean that there is no hope for the human race, but there is hope for individual members of it. (Op.cit., 162)

Above I have uploaded a photograph of two of my pupils after surfing the Atlantic breakers at Delphi, March 2007

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Games We (all) Play 3

It is important to note that Dr. Eric Berne was a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst steeped in the Freudian tradition, though not at all orthodox as I have pointed out in a previous post.  In fact he had fallen out with the orthodox Freudians and had wished not to be identified with them at all.  However, it is not too surprising to find that Transactional Analysis (TA) evolved out of Freudian psychoanalysis.  Berne relates that he had once had an adult male patient who had admitted that that he was really "a little boy in an adult's clothing."  In subsequent therapy he often asked his patient whether it was "the little boy" or "the adult" that was then talking in him.  Consequently, using this practical therapeutic background and other sources of study, Berne concluded that within each person are three selves or three "ego states" that often contradict each other.  Once again I will return to the foundational work by Berne and quote in own words here, which I think and feel are important:

In technical language, an ego state may be described phenomenologically as a coherent system of feelings, and operationally as a set of coherent behaviour patterns.  In more practical terms, it is a system of feelings accompanied by a related set of behavioural patterns.  Each individual seems to have available a limited repertoire of such ego states, which are not roles but psychological realities.  This repertoire can be sorted into the following categories: (1) ego states which resemble those of parental figures; (2) ego states which are autonomously directed towards objective appraisal of reality and (3) those which represent archaic relics, still-active ego states which were fixated in early childhood.  Technically, these are called, respectively, exteropsychic, neopsychic, and archaeopsychic ego states.  Colloquially their exhibitions are called Parent, Adult and Child, and these simple terms serve for all but the most formal discussions. (Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships, 23)

When I was studying Berne at college all those years ago our lecturer spoke of the PAC ~ PAC dynamic for two interrelating persons.  Diagrammatically this lecturer had each person represented by a Venn-like diagram with three points in it called P, A and C and the other person was represented in like manner.  Berne used three equal circles under one another with P in one, A in another and C in the third to represent the three ego states of person 1 and three other equal circles with the same letters to represent person 2. 

The three selves Parent, Adult and Child correspond loosely and roughly to the Freudian structural categories of the personality, Id, Ego and Superego. In this regard the Parent category corresponds to the Freudian Superego, the Adult to the Ego and the Child to the Id.  Here is what Tom Butler-Bowdon has to say in a marvellous new book on psychology classics:

In any given social interaction, Berne argued, we exhibit one of these basic Parent, Adult, and Child states, and can easily shift from one to the other.  For instance we can take on the child's creativity, curiosity and charm, but also the child's tantrums or intransigence.  Within each mode we can be productive or unproductive. 

In playing a game with someone we take on an aspect of one of the three selves. Instead of remaining neutral, genuine, or intimate, to get what we want we may feel we need to act like a commanding parent, or a coquettish child, or to take the sage-like, rational aura of an adult. (Tom Butler-Bowdon, Fifty Psychological Classics: Who We Are, How We Think, What We Do, Nicholas Brealey, 2007, 28)

As regards its history the WIKI has some interesting insights which I quote here fully and give the appropriate link by way of acknowledgement:

TA is not only post-Freudian but according to its founder's wishes consciously extra-Freudian. That is to say that while it has its roots in psychoanalysis - since Berne was a psychoanalytic-trained psychiatrist - it was designed as a dissenting branch of psychoanalysis in that it put its emphasis on transactional, rather than "psycho-", analysis.

With its focus on transactions, TA shifted its attention from internal psychological dynamics to the dynamics contained in people's interactions. Rather than believing that increasing awareness of the contents of unconsciously held ideas was the therapeutic path, TA concentrated on the content of people's interactions with each other. Changing these interactions was TA's path to solving emotional problems. TA at WIKI 

To be continued.

Above I have uploaded a picture of our first years who won the Leinster Soccer Final this past school year. Playing games are important to growing up physically, socially and emotionally strong.

The Games We (all) Play 2

I found and still find Chapter 5 of Dr. Eric Berne's book Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships riveting to say the least.  It is worth reading many times over to absorb its wisdom.  I left off the last post with a rather short definition of what a game is according to Berne. Here is a longer more comprehensive descriptive definition which he offers us right at the beginning of the chapter alluded to above.  In fact, it is the very first paragraph in full.  This is worth pondering:

A GAME is an ongoing series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing to a well-defined, predictable outcome.  Descriptively it is a recurring set of transactions, often repetitious, superficially plausible, with a concealed motivation; or, more colloquially a series of moves with a snare or 'gimmick'.  Games are clearly differentiated from procedures, rituals and pastimes by two chief characteristics (1) their ulterior quality and (2) the pay-off.  Procedures may be successful, rituals effective and pastimes profitable, but all of them are by definition candid; they may involve contest, but not conflict, and the ending may be sensational, but it is not dramatic.  Every game, on the other hand is basically dishonest, and the outcome has a dramatic, as distinct from merely exciting, quality. (Op.cit. supra, 44)

Recently (for the past three or four years) I have been watching the games people play at work.  I shall disguise any characters here in case any reader I might know should identify any person.  Mr X likes control and power.  In fact, practically all staff members and even students recognise this.  If he perceives that someone has failed in their loyalty either to him or the school he will strive at all costs to get his own back.  Little things I've noticed about X over the years - when he considered me a "friend" he quite liked to bully me.  For instance, he might say something like, "ah, I see you have two pens there, sure you won't mind if I take that one," and disappear.  He would also like to challenge me in front of the pupils during the period of time he called me "friend."  However, some five or so years ago we had a blazing row after a certain bullying incident, for which he begged forgiveness when I threatened to go further with the matter.  During the ensuing conversation he said, "Sure aren't we friends?  Don't friends joke?  I would not have said it if we were not friends?"  I answered, "I don't know if we are friends or not.  My friends don't treat me the way you do."  Obviously there were power games going on here.  Then, at one stage last year I felt definite undercurrents of resentment from both him and his immediate superior.  I just did not know why this undercurrent of resentment was there and it still puzzles me as to why the other guy went along with the resentment (concealed motivation). What game was being played? In hindsight, I had pulled out of an activity, which I shan't name lest it indicate the person involved, for medical reasons which I did not disclose at the time, and I gave another reason instead.  In the meantime I noticed that I lost certain privileges for more than half the academic year (pay-off: he had got his own back) - though another very plausible reason was offered for this. ("snare" or "gimmick" with ulterior motive)  I knew that this was "pay back" time.  The following year, he informed me that a certain privilege was restored.  I did not say "thanks", but rather answered with the question: "Is that so?"  The pay-off usually involves some emotional satisfaction or increase in control.  I do not mention any of this with resentment, but rather with a vague amusement as to the silly games people play when there are so many more important issues in life at stake.  I felt like saying, "So what, who cares anyway?  Get a life.  This, too, will pass!"

Eric Berne highlights the following games in his book: (1) "If it weren't for you...", (2) "Why don't you - yes, but", (3) Wooden Leg, (4) "Now I've got you, you son of a bitch", (5) "See what you made me do", (6) "Frigid Woman", (7) "Look how hard I've tried," (8) "Homely Sage" and (9) "They'll be glad they knew me" at a cursory glance.  Among what he terms Life Games he enumerates Alcoholic, Debtor, Kick Me, Now I've got you, you son of a bitch, and See what you made me do and among Marital Games the following: Corner, Courtroom, Frigid Woman, Harried, If it weren't for you, Look how hard I've tried, and Sweetheart.  Among Party Games he numbers Ain't it awful, Blemish, Schlemiel and Why don't you - yes, but.  

Berne mentions many other types of games and lists examples of each.  I won't go into these, except to say that he mentions Sexual Games and Underworld Games among some others.  In future posts I will deal with some specific games people play - ones that I've noticed either others or myself engaged in.  I shall also talk about the specific dynamics of Transactional Analysis and how fundamentally it is based on a firm foundation in the Freudian structural model of the psyche or personality.

To be continued.

Above I have uploaded a picture of some students playing cards at Delphi - March 2007

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Games We (all) Play 1

One of the benefits for me of being on holidays is the amount of time I can spend at my two preferred hobbies, namely reading and writing.  It also allows me time to sort through the books I have amassed during the previous year and to put them in some order on my shelves.  It also allows me time to rediscover and reread old favourites.  Hence my title above this entry.  The book that caught my eye this morning was Games People Play (Penguin, 1967) by Eric Berne(1910 – 1970).  I see that I have dated my copy 04/09/'92.  My father's cousin, John Saunders, who was an accountant at a San Francisco hospital knew Berne very well, and it was John who recommended this book to me many years ago.

As a fifty-year old male who has embarked upon what Carl Gustave Jung famously called the search-for-meaning half of life I have become an avid people-watcher.  Coupled with my readings in psychology, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, I find myself becoming more and more aware of the games people play (indeed, of the games I might play myself, that is those I have become conscious of) for the most part unconsciously.  This background of reading, self-analysis and indeed attending my own counsellor for some years has meant that I have become more settled in myself and also a sharper observer of these games humankind is wont to play.  Moreover, I have found that when I have made conscious the games that I used to play, I find that I have ceased to wish to play any of them.  Life is not a game to be won at all costs, I believe.  Rather, if it is a game, it is one we should enjoy playing for playing's sake rather than for winning or losing.  However, I contend that life is not a game, and so to refuse to play those silly games is also an option - indeed this is the option I decidedly choose most of the time.

After Berne's service in the Army Medical Corps during World War II, he resumed his studies under Erik Erikson at the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute and practised at Mt. Zion Hospital. Later he became a group therapist attached to several hospitals in San Francisco, in one of which my cousin John worked.  Dr Berne also began to further extend his study into the nature of the Ego State Model.  In 1949 he formally broke from mainline thought and practice when he was rejected for membership in the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute.  Berne then developed his own therapy or therapeutic technique called Transactional Analysis.

Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships (1964) marked the beginning of the popular psychology boom of the late sixties and following decades.  On the one hand this book was different from a mere self-help book with loads of suggestions, work-book exercises or advice, while on the other it was also distinct from academic psychology.  For the first time we had sound psychology popularised.  Hence the term Popular Psychology or Pop Psychology as we know it today.  Every bookseller knows how important it is to their pockets to keep this section of their shop filled with the latest books in this field.  To date his book has sold well over 5 million copies. (Originally Berne had published a similar, though purely academic, book along the same lines which did not sell well.  No wonder, because it was entitled Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy (1961).  A change of title with more attractive content focused on real problems for real people in their day-to-day lives really sells.)

Strokes and Transactions:

Years ago when I first entered college at the tender age of 18 - way back in 1976 - I remember we had to do an orientation course as it was then called.  Today we'd probably call this type of course an induction.  Anyway, we had to pair off and get to know as many people as we possibly could in a given amount of time and then write what was termed "positive strokes" on a piece of paper pinned on one another's backs.  At the end we took off the piece of paper and read all our "positive strokes."  I remember as a young boy/man thinking that this game was very American and very wishy-washy. However, I quickly came to realise that this game was a good ice breaker.  Anyway, let's discuss strokes.  This is the way Berne's thought progressed:  A. Infants will develop both mental and physical problems if they are not handled lovingly and with care. B. Sensory deprivation in adults can also lead to neurosis and indeed psychosis.  C. Hence, both adults and children need positive physical contact, but this is not always available or possible. D. Therefore, we compromise by seeking symbolic emotional "strokes" from others.

Examples of Strokes:

A film star or a famous singer may get his or her strokes from all the fan letters they get on a weekly basis.  A good pupil may get his or her strokes from getting good grades in an exam.  A particularly brilliant football player may get his/her strokes from the amount of points scored during the game etc.  A teacher or lecturer may get his/her strokes from the success of their students or from the acknowledgement of fellow teachers or academics.  It is easy to add your own list of strokes to this short list.  I will return here to the base text and let Berne speak for himself:

'Stroking' may be used as a general term for intimate physical contact; in practice it may take various forms.  Some people literally stroke an infant; others hug or pat it, while some people pinch it playfully or flip it with a fingertip.  These all have their analogues in conversation, so that it seems one might predict how an individual would handle a baby by listening to him talk.  By an extension of meaning, 'stroking' may be employed colloquially to denote any act implying the recognition of another's presence.  Hence a stroke may be used as the fundamental unit of social action.  An exchange of strokes constitutes a transaction, which is the unit of social intercourse. (Berne's italicisation) (Berne, op.cit., 14-15)

Definition Summary

1. A Stroke = the fundamental unit of social interaction - any act by one person that recognises the presence of another.

2. A Transaction = an exchange of strokes, and therefore this interchange constitutes the unit of social intercourse.

3. A Game = "an ongoing series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing to a well-defined, predictable outcome."

To be continued.

Above some past pupils playing the game of JUDO. Picture taken November 2004

Monday, June 02, 2008

Ivor Browne 2


I suppose if I were asked who are my two favourite Irish psychiatrists my answer would have to be Professor Anthony Clare, RIP and Professor Ivor Browne who is only 79 years young.  Both were brilliant psychiatrists and great communicators during their professional lives.  Ivor continues to be a consummate communicator to this day.  I have already referred to his recently published memoir which I shall review in these pages before too long.  As promised yesterday I here return to an interesting interview with Dr Stephen J. Costello, then a philosopher in UCD.  There are many interesting insights into the character and personality of Ivor Browne, the state of psychiatry in Ireland both at present and during the post World War II period up till the year 2000 and into mental illness in general in this interview.  I shall highlight here what I consider to be some of the interesting and thought-provoking points Professor Browne makes.  I shall just randomly number these points of interest.

1. One of the critiques Browne makes of Sigmund Freud is that he was too determinist or deterministic in his therapy and theories of personality.  Here is Browne's own homespun philosophy:

The central view is that we are creating the mess we're living in.  We have the freedom to change.  That's the psychotherapeutic view.  If you were logical about Freud's view that everything was determined, there would be no sense whatever sitting down and working with someone!  There's a complete lack of logic in the determinist position. (The Irish Soul in Dialogue, 14)

2.  Browne takes a System's View of reality or of Life and speaks of the ideas of Unity and Interconnectedness of all things.  He refers to the physicists Capra and Bohm by way of theoretical background to this approach to Life.

3. He was a disciple of Stan Grof for a number of years, but later broke away from his ideas.  I have two of Dr Stanislaus Grof's books on my shelf namely, The Cosmic Game (New Leaf, Gill and MacMillan, 1998) and The Stormy Search For The Self (Thorsons, 1995). Browne informs us that he first met Stan Grof in the early eighties.  He liked Grof's non-drug method of drums and breathing (holotropic breathing techniques).  However, Browne was never considered orthodox by Stanley Grof.  However, here is Browne's criticism of this latter's work:  "The holotropic thing is too forceful; it's driving the person too much.  I now think that traditional psychotherapy is more appropriate. (Op.cit., 17)

4.  On his own approach to psychotherapy and psychiatry Browne describes himself as having an eclectic approach by taking from all models anything that is helpful to the client or patient - including pharmacotherapy - a lot of psychotropic drugs are useful in many cases but the long-term use of them is damaging.

5.  On schizophrenia and its nature Browne is interesting.  He describes schizophrenia as a state of being fragmented.  "It's no use doing holotropic work with people like that; they just become more fragmented and infantile." (ibid., 21)  Then he goes on a little later in the interview to talk about how the central problem for schizophrenics is the failure to separate (properly) from the family.  He faults his old friend Ronnie Laing for demonising parents and making something quasi-sacred of the psychotic. (Ibid., 22-23)

6.  That Professor Browne is straight talking no one should doubt.  Here he is on Freud and the Oedipus Complex: "This is just Freudian bullshit.  The psychotic hasn't learnt to create a self and hasn't learnt to grow up.  That's a much simpler way of putting it.  I don't know what all this jazz about the Oedipus Complex is.  It seems to me to have been grossly exaggerated in importance.  I certainly think psychosis is a family problem." (Ibid., 22)

7.  And finally, here is his answer to Stephen J. Costello's last question as to whether he was happy or not.  This answer is worth pondering again and again:

No, I don't think so. As John McGahern said, "If there is a heaven, there aren't any writers in it.  I'm probably more contented than at any other period of my life, but I don't think this is a situation of happiness, nor do I think it is particularly important.  That's where we have gone wrong now, that we are searching for it.  This need to be happy is an absurd notion.! (Ibid., 29)

Yet another view of the famous Cliffs of Moher

A little praise for Ivor Browne

Formerly Professor of Psychiatry in UCD here in Ireland, Ivor Browne has always impressed me as a wonderfully sensitive and helpful human being.  I remember his defending the equally great and talented R.D. Laing who appeared somewhat inebriated on the Late Late Show, sometime in the 1980s I think.  Gay Byrne, the host of the show, had in his usual cynical way attacked the drunken psychiatrist in an aggressive manner, thereby making for good television at the expense of ridiculing a sensitive human being.  This was always Byrne's technique, namely that good television was more important than the integrity of the guest.  However, an appreciation of the erstwhile broadcaster's unique cynical but brilliant broadcasting style is beyond my scope in this article here, as I wish to talk about the great Irish psychiatrist Ivor Browne.

Ivor is in the news of late because he has published a MEMOIR entitled: Music and Madness (Atrium, 364pp. €25.)  Therein, Browne tells the story of his unusually controversial and long career in psychiatry in Ireland.  I do intend buying this book and reviewing it in these pages before too long.  However, I have had the privilege of hearing Ivor once and of having read several articles from his pen as well as many reviews of his work.  Hence, as my title indicates this note today is more in the line of a little praise and appreciation for a wonderfully sensitive human being and a marvellous Irish psychiatrist.

Ivor was always a radical in the truest sense of that word.  He had and still has a propensity to get to the heart or to the root (radix = root; hence radical) of any problem.  What an achievement for a radical to get to the very top of his profession and still remain radical!  I found a quote from Browne on the site of the voluntary mental health organization Grow which is excellent in its sheer simplicity:

“To solve a problem, you need action by the person with the problem, you need the knowledge that’s appropriate to this specific situation, and you need the love, trust, motivation and objectivity between the people involved that creates the energy to move the process forward. That sums up what we as professionals should be all about. It also sums up what GROW is all about.”
-Ivor Browne, Consultant Psychiatrist, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, UCD. (From an address given to mental health professional at GROW’s 1994 workshop on mental health.)

The journalist John Spain in a recent article in The Irish Independent gives a wonderfully succinct overview of Browne's career which I will quote somewhat at length as it is so apt to my present post:

To students in Dublin in the late 1960s, Ivor Browne was a kind of god. Although he was Professor of Psychiatry in UCD, he supported the student revolution in Earlsfort Terrace in '68, he smoked dope, he took LSD, he played jazz, he would get down on the floor and talk about changing society. That was just for starters.

He was also someone who had travelled around Ireland in his own student days in the late 1940s, playing traditional music for his supper like a hippie, before hippies were even heard of.

He was a god to the students because he was a radical thinker and a free spirit. Years later he became a devil to the jobsworths (sic) in the Department and the psychiatric profession because he pushed psychiatric care into realms that they could not handle and still get in enough golf. They didn't exactly crucify him for it but, like Christ, he was driven out.

In between these two points Ivor Browne was at the forefront of psychiatric care in Ireland, transforming the way we treated the mentally ill. He was a charismatic individual with little ego or interest in money, a powerful intellect, enormous energy and a compulsion to change both himself and Irish society from within.

Unlike those who saw medicine as a ticket to status and wealth, Browne was filled from the beginning with a spirit of public service, a burning intellectual curiosity about new ways of treating the mentally ill and a determination to change the inhuman mental hospital set-up which locked people up and then forgot about them.

However, for this post I wish to refer in some detail to an interesting interview he did with the philosopher Dr Stephen J. Costello, then a lecturer in philosophy in UCD for the latter's wonderfully enlightening and broadly sweeping book of interviews entitled The Irish Soul In Dialogue (The Liffey Press, Dublin, 2001.)  Therein, Browne reveals himself as an interesting pioneer in psychiatry and also as a very liberal and humane person indeed.  Also he reveals himself as having been very much a mediocre student at school who really did not know where he wanted to go in life; as a somewhat sickly child who suffered from TB and who lived very much in his imagination.  However, having become a psychiatrist, he was quick to realise a lot of home truths among which I will quote the following revelation into psychiatry and psychiatrists:

Most people who enter psychiatry do so because they have questions about themselves.  They have trouble understanding themselves and I certainly had plenty of that.  The sad thing about much psychiatry, about people who take the medical, organic view, is that they end up not studying themselves and so learn nothing and go off into a tunnel.  But I certainly didn't follow that direction. (Op. cit., 11)

Professor Ivor Browne is also unusual because he is both a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist.  He had sessions of psychoanalysis along Adlerian lines with an English Doctor and psychoanalyst called Joshua Bierer in Marlborough, England.  His first job as a psychiatrist was at Oxford where he learned at long last to think for himself as the Oxonians are wont to do.  Thence he went up to London where he worked with psychiatrists who were experimenting with LSD and mental ill health.  Shortly afterwards Browne went to Harvard University where he studied under Drs Lindeman and Caplan.  Both these doctors were interesting in the handling of crisis - in fact, Dr Lindeman was the first to write a paper on unresolved grief and how this led to crisis. (cf. ibid., 12-13)

Professor Browne has much else of interest to discuss in his interview with Stephen J. Costello which I shall summarise in my next post.

Above I have uploaded a picture of the Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare, which I took on Saturday 31st May 2008