By Troy Piwowarski, Psy.S.
Coming fresh off part two of the E-H certificate training, I find myself in reverie over what took place in the small container of the Westin airport hotel conference room. As a participant in the role of teaching assistant, I found myself in a much quieter space than I am accustomed to embodying. The hush of my intermediary position afforded me the chance to listen, to feel deeper, and to dream into the experiences of others present. As a way of creatively synthesizing an emotionally rich experience, I would like to share some observations of what makes a training like this qualitatively—and fundamentally—different than most.
One of our participants was a keen observer of the group process, and continually brought us into reflecting upon “What are we present to at this moment?” This question represented a broader self-awareness of the present moment that permeated the training. E-H therapy is about valuing moment-to-moment process, and this value was not merely touted intellectually. We all felt into it, even into disquieting moments of uncertainty. Learning took on a color of immediacy and deep personal meaning.
To quote a favorite professor of mine, in E-H training, “the academic is personal*.”
As we collectively examined what makes E-H therapy distinctive, it became clear that words can do a disservice, even a violence, to the phenomenon itself. This lent to the birth of a theme called “showing vs. telling.” Watching a video of Jim Bugental’s masterful following of his client’s process punctuated the richness of the unfolding moment that is immediately diminished by attempts to put it in words. Still, the words chosen by the students to describe what they saw in Jim’s work seemed to emerge from a deeper space, rather than a heady intellectual discussion of what it means to “follow process.”
I repeat myself—“the academic is personal.”
With the acknowledgment of the limitations that come with literalism, the group began to embrace the use of metaphor. Students conjured vivid imagery of trees and dancing to describe the difficult concepts of Being and Nonbeing, the interpersonal field, and so on. We found ourselves in the constant company of poetry, of Rilke and Goethe, our poetic forebears. The metaphors painted by these poems constantly wove their way back into the dialogue, strengthening our relationship both to concrete learnings and the mystery of the intangible.
Students also seemed to resonate with each other in a sense of initial groundlessness that comes with embracing less certainty. I suspect, as other authors (e.g., Heath, 2002**) elucidate, that there is something universally disconcerting about asking serious questions about one’s beliefs and values. Interestingly, the predominant coupling of discomfort and a sense of “right-ness” was present for most students.
This is simply what I observed in my quietude. I invite those present—teachers and students—to “show and tell,” to fill out the picture further in whatever way speaks to you—themes, poetry, visual art, video. Whatever is alive for you, I encourage you to share in order to illuminate the qualities that make this training a life-giving experience.
Troy Piwowarski is an Existentially-oriented psychotherapist and third-year doctoral student at the Michigan School of Professional Psychology in the Detroit area. In addition to his clinical practice, he is actively involved with EHI as a board member and Student Outreach Coordinator. Beyond the contexts of therapy and training, Troy is engaged in the ongoing dialogue of existence in his reading, writing, art, and relationships. His forthcoming dissertation seeks to understand what phenomenologically-oriented therapists attend to in therapy in order to contextualize their clients.
*Thanks to Sid Berkowitz for “The academic is personal” quotation.
**Heath, G. (2002). Philosophy and psychotherapy: conflict or co-operation? International Journal of Psychotherapy, 7(1), 13-52. Readers are greatly encouraged to read this article, as it represents a sorely needed call for the return of philosophy in the field of psychotherapy.