For some time now I have had a growing dream and a vision of developing a Centre for psychotherapy practice, education and research in the Scottish Highlands, where I live and work.
I was extremely fortunate to study psychotherapy under Dr David Jansen and Margaret Newman at the Jansen Newman Institute (JNI) in St. Leonards, Sydney back in 1997-1998. After I graduated I was offered the opportunity to continue to do a bit of work for JNI and to co-present the Really Relating couples workshop alongside Tim, my former classmate.
JNI was a wonderful school and I felt at home for the two years I was a student there. I was exposed to some of the best people and teachers I have ever encountered in my life and everything I was taught is all still with me and still serves me well. JNI was a visionary school that taught psychotherapy to a very high standard. It was different to any other psychotherapy school in Australia at the time. JNI introduced me to so many topics, philosophies and ideas that I know are still largely not taught in psychotherapy courses today.
(If my Centre ever becomes a reality and Margaret Newman is still with us, I would love to invite her to cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony.)
I would like to build on JNI’s vision and develop an accredited psychotherapy programme that includes the best of the foundational knowledge I was taught.
I would like to bring this knowledge to our time with the addition of neuroscience, especially as it comes to psychotherapy from Dan Siegel’s brilliant and revolutionary Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB) framework. IPNB informs my work heavily. It takes psychotherapy from the realm of mystery to something that everyone can understand and implement. Thanks to IPNB, psychotherapists can finally understand and explain clearly what it is that we are doing in our work and how exactly we help our clients.
I can see a well-equipped school with a library and all the facilities to make the learning experience comfortable and nourishing for students. I see a café serving good quality, healthy food and places inside and outside to study, process and be quiet alone or with others.
I would like to develop an ongoing programme of public talks and workshops on a variety of useful topics, building on the talks I have started to offer to the public in the past few months.
Not everyone needs to come to therapy and none of what we do in therapy needs to be a big mystery. Many people can get a great deal out of attending talks and workshops. I am especially interested in inviting young people to attend talks and workshops. So much suffering can be prevented later in life with just a little bit of useful knowledge. I would like to do myself out of a job and in the long-term render the profession of psychotherapy unnecessary. I believe it is possible. Our mental health problems are largely preventable. With better knowledge for parents on how to interact with their children’s emotions, with a safer world for children and for everyone we can help develop human ‘mark II’ who will have a better integrated brain than my generation and those before it left home with. I don’t think it’s too much to ask or hope for…
The centre I imagine will have well-equipped and comfortable therapy rooms for psychotherapists to work in with clients. There will be full-fee services for individuals, relationships and groups run by highly qualified professionals. I can also see a low-cost clinic where students can get placement and where members of the public who are unable to pay a full fee for therapy can get good quality affordable service.
No significant change can happen in people’s feelings, thoughts, behaviours and general personality without significant changes in the brain. The way I work in therapy clearly leads to serious changes in clients’ brains. I have two decades of clinical evidence of this.
The hypothesis I have worked with increasingly over the past 20 years is that good quality psychotherapy leads to better connectivity between our prefrontal functions and our limbic brain. We don’t get good connections from birth or from nature because of how our brain has evolved and how it is put together. But most of us have the potential to improve those connections. Improving these connections is the real work of psychothearpy.
It’s the lack of good connectivity that causes us to feel like we have ‘two sides’ to ourselves. We can be petty, scared, small, lost, judgemental, depressed, paralysed, overwhelmed and confused at the same time as we can be mature, accepting, non-judgemental, focused, clear and purposeful. But our limbic brain takes over when we are triggered so we lose those higher abilities. One version or another of this is usually what brings people to therapy.
I would like to team up with a neuroscientist at the Centre. It will be a person who will bring the knowledge and ability to carry out research based on hard science. I imagine scanning clients’ brains before, during and after therapy to see the differences in structure. Clients hopefully will be able to see the changes in their own brains and I envision research papers coming out of the Centre.
Why the Scottish Highlands?
The Scottish Highlands are an incredible location to live and work. The region here in the north of Scotland is mostly rural and provides clean air and clean water. It is not densely populated and has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.
I am fortunate to be living here and believe this is a perfect place for the Centre I have in mind. This place is relaxing and it allows plenty of quiet spaces for walking and contemplating without the noise, pollution and hustle & bustle of big cities.
Will it remain a pipe dream?
I already know that if this vision never becomes a reality, I would still be OK and continue to live a good and productive life for as long as I have. However, something tells me that this Centre is something I am supposed to create and it would be wonderful if I could.
I come from a humble working class background and do not have the financial means to create what I have in mind. I am worried that if I borrowed money or relied on small grants and constant fundraising, I would spend my time worried about how to repay loans or raise more funding. This isn’t what I want to focus my energy on. Ideally, I would like to be financially independent in setting up the Centre I imagine. I have no idea how to raise the kind of money I need to do this without worrying about anything, and without compromising my vision and my standards.
I hope the means will come somehow from somewhere. If anyone knows someone or someones who can make significant donations in order to make this dream come true, please do pass this on or get them in touch with me. Some of my ideas about therapy and psychological wellbeing are outlined in the booklets I published so far.
I have always believed that if something is really needed it will find a way of happening. I am just sending all of this out there…