Personal Philosophy Essay

The term ‘context’ can be confusing because it is used in a number of different ways within Psychosynthesis. Essentially though, all it means is a picture or frame within which a particular event or phenomenon makes sense. Depending on the frame, the meaning changes.
Consider the following example. A client complains of having panic attacks on tube trains. If we took one particular frame, we might find out that the client had a traumatic experience being trapped in a confined space as a child. If we took another frame, we might find out that these panic attacks started only after the nerve gas terrorist attack on the Tokyo metro some years ago, and has been getting acute only since 9/11. If we took yet another frame, we might find that the panic attacks only occur near King’s Cross, because the client remembers the devastating fire there many years ago and had been in a fire as a child. So, each time the information is selectively refined or clarified, the frame might need to be changed or adjusted to provide a better ‘closeness of fit’ thus giving a new meaning or slant, which would then take the therapeutic hypothesis and interventions in potentially new directions.
Thus it could be argued that the optimally best therapy is possible when the most appropriate frame or context is accurately identified – a frame which includes as many of the relevant facts or features as possible and one which is able to give a coherent meaning to what is being presented. It follows that one of the key differences between therapy modalities is the frame or context in which they hold these features. Thus Psychosynthesis would hold a different frame from say Psychoanalysis, Gestalt, Transactional Analysis or person-centred approaches. Sometimes the frames are compatible between modalities, sometimes they are at odds. One of the good things about Psychosynthesis is that it is very accommodating of the value to be found in other modalities, yet still offering a distinct and powerful frame of its own.
In Psychosynthesis, there are three broad ways we use the term ‘context’ to describe frames:
1. The ‘context’ of the client’s life journey. This can refer to such things as the soul’s development, the unfolding of Self-awareness and the emergence of the I, the existential life stage reached or the childhood drama from which the client is trying to emerge and resolve. It can also refer to political or social conditions affecting the client, such as being black or gay or a refugee. This is why it is important to gather as many relevant facts about the client’s life as early as possible, so that an adequate hypothesis and broad strategy for therapy can be formulated.
2. The ‘context’ of the therapeutic work. This arises out of the above. It means that for each client, there needs to be a different ‘treatment plan’. For example, where we have formed a hypothesis that the client suffered from a lack of early boundaries, much of the therapeutic work might be involved in setting and maintaining containment and boundaries. If the client turned up five minutes late for the session, this would be considered significant and challenged. However, if the client happened to be a psychologically mature adult suffering mid-life existential crisis, the boundary issue would not be the foreground context, but rather the substance and quality of the therapeutic alliance.
3. The ‘context’ held by either the client or the therapist. The easiest way of describing this is the ‘horizon’ held by either/both people. The client may have a very restricted view of what they are dealing with, and may be depending on the therapist to have a wider or deeper view – a more extensive horizon. This is very often why people come to a therapist. This meaning of context is particularly relevant when holding and understanding the transferences in the relationship, so that the therapist does not act quite so reactively. Supervision can help the therapist extend his or her horizons and personal context, which will have a knock-on effect on 1 and 2 above.
The principal crafts of therapy might be stated in terms of finding ways of (a) extending context 3 for the client – stimulating those ‘aha’ moments; (b) refining context 2 as the work develops; and (c) bringing context 1 into consciousness in meaningful, embodied and fully-owned ways so that deep transformation becomes possible. This is clearly a tall order! When we get lost or stuck, it is valuable discipline to return to the client’s original presenting issue or symptom, as this usually holds the key – a key that often slots into place as the work progresses.
One of the difficulties (and subtleties) of relating these three aspects of context to one another is that the term is only a model or construction – it is not truth or reality – it refers to ‘likely possibility’. Context only emerges or is verified as a co-creative act on behalf of the client and the therapist. In other words, we cannot really say from one moment to another what will emerge until it actually does. This is important, and very humbling, as it is easy for a therapist to fall in the trap of believing he or she ‘knows’ what is meant to happen. This leads us to what we might call a ‘meta-context’ – meaning that, in virtually all therapeutic encounters, the emergent frame should be held as unknown or unknowable.
© Keith Silvester
April 2004