More about Psychotherapy and Gary Tomkins

I do use a prefix to describe my work, that prefix being “Individual”. The more obvious implication is that the work is for individuals as opposed to groups. Beyond this though I think it is useful to emphasise the individual nature of the work we would do together. Jung coined the term “individuation” to describe the process of becoming more whole, more ourselves. In this sense our work is about helping you become more you. It is easy to see such work as selfish or egocentric, however this would be a mistake. I believe it is impossible to become more oneself without recognising what I would call “otherness”, be that otherness in oneself or of others.

I do not try to make people normal. If anything my job is to understand why you are who you are. I do not make you wrong for being who you are. It is my belief that true healing only comes about by a profound acceptance of who we are. Any attempt to move someone to some normal way of being is likely at best to offer only temporary relief from suffering, whereas to experience being accepted for who we are brings profound transformation, a reduction in suffering and sense of purpose and meaning to our lives.

The form the work takes, depends on you and what you bring. There is no set formula that I apply to you, or process for you to go through. It’s about you becoming you, not conforming to some school of therapy. Of course there are patterns that the work may take, and similarities that do occur from one client to another, but the very essence of the work is to honour your uniqueness. This is what keeps me interested in the work, i.e. that with each client I get the privilege of meeting another unique individual and helping him or her further their uniqueness.
The process however is not necessarily experienced as one of growth or expansion; sometimes it is more an experience of contraction or shrinkage. It is no coincidence that psychoanalysts are known as Shrinks. Therapists of all kinds – psychological and physical, often overlook that there are two directions of change possible. Recognising whether the question is one of growth or shrinkage for a particular client, is one of the most subtle (and perhaps the most ethical) dilemmas faced by the psychotherapist. Ideally my job is nothing more than to present both sides of the dilemma and allow the client to experience the tension of the opposites and come to their own conclusions.

I am often asked what the difference is between psychotherapy and counselling and whilst it is difficult to delineate, I would say it depends on the attitude towards the ego. By this I mean, in counselling the emphasis is on bringing a sense of ego-stability back to the client, whereas psychotherapy (especially the transpersonal psychotherapies) goes further than this by seeing the client as more than their ego, or who they think they are. Whilst many may take issue with such a delineation it is as near as I can get.

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Experience has shown me that whilst significant progress, or ego stabilisation, can be made by exploring thought patterns and allowing feelings to be felt, this tends to be the precursor to deeper or transformative work. By engaging with our other (usually more neglected) modes of experiencing the world such as dreams, imagination and the body.

The client’s dreams can be of particular use in informing us about the whole of our work. What you say about your particular issue and how it develops fills out part of the picture, dreams help to complete it. Often clients will talk for most of the session and between us useful work is done, only for the client to mention a dream close to the end of the session that not only affirms the work already done but also offers neat twists, further insights and a sense of wholeness. Increasingly I see dreams (especially in the ongoing therapeutic context) to portray, albeit in symbolic language, the egoless truth. A truth that has not been subjected to the rationalisation and defence mechanisms employed by the ego. Adopting such an attitude relativises the ego's superior standpoint and the "aha" experience of understanding a dream is simply the ego catching up with the dreams portrayal of reality. In this sense our ego's are always lagging behind the dream's reality and it accounts for how dreams can be predictive, in that we catch up with them. So valuable do I believe dreams are in living a Soulful life I offer "one-off" sessions for people not in on-going therapy to explore a particular dream.

Images that appear spontaneously during the work provide useful direct insight into internal processes. I believe images are the language of the psyche and just as dreams are so valuable as our ego is asleep, so too are images that appear spontaneously during the work. (I draw a stark line between spontaneously produced images and those introduced by therapists in guided imagery exercises etc.. Just as I see lucid dreaming being an ego led attempt to re-engineer a natural process. You can probably surmise from this I am extrememly sceptical about hypnotherapy.

Psychotherapy, the talking cure, has long neglected the body. My Core Process training emphasised the importance of the body and felt sense in therapy. Out of this I developed a meditation practice that respected thoughts, feelings, sensations and the imagination, that I sometimes offer to clients to deepen our work together. More often though I may bring the client's attention to their body or movements they have made, not so much to understand or interpret but to find ways of unlocking stuck patterns of behaviour.

My experience and researches have lead me to believe that psychotherapy as practiced by many is an over reflective process that takes people away from their bodies and life, and whilst some reflection is useful, too much leads to a state in Jungs words "(where) one does not live in the true sense of the word, it is a sort of abstract, ideal state. In order to make it come alive it must have 'blood'".

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The “relationship” rather than the form of therapy is often cited these days as being the most important factor in effective therapy (interestingly independent studies have shown that minimal therapeutic training can be the most important factor in effective therapy). When analysed the importance of the relationship is obvious... if the client does not feel safe or able to relate to the therapist then how can they bare themselves. Of course therapists are trained in ways to foster a healthy working relationship however ultimately I believe there is no faking it. The advice I give to those seeking a therapist is to walk out if it does not feel right in the first sessions, however if something crops up later in the work then that could be worth investigating, especially if it bears any resemblance to the problem that took you into therapy. If the therapist is unwilling to explore the relationship between the two of you this sets up an unhealthy one-sided power dynamic. Unlike some therapists, notably those of the Psychodynamic approach, I am open about my responses, thoughts and feelings in relation to you whilst also elucidating and making use of what you imagine my response may be. In this way both, the inequity of the therapist withholding, and the “knowing better” attitude of the therapist, are avoided; without denying the client the benefit of the therapists thoughts, insights, reflections, and feelings.
I am sharply aware of the Patriarchal nature of the society we live in and the detrimental influence this can have on the therapeutic setting.

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This leads me on to a rather technical matter, that of the use of Transference and Counter Transference. Put simply, the classical or more psychoanalytic definition of Transference is the unconscious redirection of emotions from the client’s past onto the therapist. Under such circumstances the client comes to see or treat the therapist as their Mother or Father. However the range of projections may be wider than this i.e. the Mother and Father the client never had, the ideal partner or lover, the Wise Man etc. Counter-transference is seen as the therapist’s unconscious reaction to how the client behaves towards them under the influence of transference. If you have got lost by this point and don’t understand what I am taking about, don’t worry, because that is an appropriate feeling at this stage in relation to the subject matter and if a few therapists could grasp that too, there wouldn’t be such a problem. You may have noticed in my description that the term “unconscious” was used and wherever that term is employed there is licence for all kinds of trouble and abuse of power.

As part of my exploration of the various Psychotherapy professional bodies, I became aware of, and engaged with, the Clients Voice movement. One of the major concerns of some clients (and therapists) was the use of approaches focussing on Transference and Counter Transference. Some clients, having become dependent on their therapists, felt abused by them continually referring all of their feelings back to their past, thereby denying any legitimacy to their feelings in the present. Unable to change things in the present relationship and unable change the therapist’s entrenched fixed position, the clients languished in a therapy they were unable to leave despite the ongoing emotional and financial cost.

I don’t deny that the feelings that arise in therapy are strong and that this kind of abuse has happened to some clients. I have heard an analyst talk at a lecture about a client of 17 years standing, five sessions a week initially down to three a week later in the analysis, with her boasting how she could tell exactly how he was feeling when he entered the room. This reeks of ineffective, perhaps exploitative and quite possibly abusive therapy. It raises questions of Counter Transference issues, as to who the younger male client was to her... her son possibly and was she an over intrusive Mother? I have also been on the wrong end of such an experience myself within my Psychosynthesis training and it was this that spurred me on to research and understand this process more thoroughly.

What is apparent to me is that there are two fundamental errors involved. Firstly, there is a complete misunderstanding by the therapist of the process of transference and counter transference at the theoretical level and secondly there are the errors relating to particular clients due to the unconsciousness of the therapist, or more precisely how the therapist handles that unconsciousness.

With respect to the process itself, Carl Jung wrote what must be the seminal text on transference and counter-transference in his work “The Psychology of the Transference”. Like most of his writings it is tough going but there are some pictures! The pictures are taken from an alchemical text, The Rosarium Philosophorum, and depict (part of) the alchemical process. The underlying message is that whilst the process can to some extent be mapped out, the form will be unknowable and both the therapist and the client get lost in it, and are eventually transformed by it. This is the crux of the matter i.e. that the therapist gets lost also, that the therapist has an unconscious. The criticism often levelled against analysts who mishandle a transference situation is that they are “insufficiently analysed”, as if the unconscious can be analysed away, which only goes to show the endemic nature of the problem in the profession. It is this arrogance, this lack of humility, this hubris of the therapist being perfect, or knowing better, that is the real problem. In the therapeutic relationship such an attitude places the client in the position of always being wrong. The only way out of such an impasse is to take on the truth of the therapist and give up one’s autonomy... hardly the goal of psychotherapy!

In practice the risk of an unhealthy transference is avoided firstly by the attitude of the therapist. The power invested in the therapist by the client has to be handled carefully. This comes down to a matter of morals or ethics, something that is largely untrainable and depends on who the person fundamentally is.

I have written several papers on this topic. The second is very theoretical and highlights a fundamental error or omission in psychotherapeutic theory. The final paper, "Yellowing", develops this work showing the roots of Psychotherapy's preference for endless self reflection and it's denial of the body and the imagination, and the immediacy they bring.

Clarifying and Re-mystifying Transference, Counter-Transference and Co-transference. A guide to avoiding Procrustean Psychotherapy.

The Twenty Woodcuts of the Rosarium Philosophorum and Their Implications for Psychotherapy.


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My experience of the Profession’s Governing Bodies has lead me to choosing to be a member of none, whilst recognising more fully my anarchic tendencies. Please be clear that by “anarchic” I mean self governing in an ethical and morally responsible way and hopefully from this writing you can see how this applies. Part of my aversion comes from the Government’s drive towards the “professionalisation” and registration of psychotherapy. I won’t go on about this here but for further information please see my article
The Fallacy of Accreditation”; an abridged version was published in “Ethically Challenged Professions” edited by House and Bates. I have all the relevant training, to the highest professional standards, experience etc. to become accredited but have chosen not to be. I believe in being open and transparent about my working practice, of which this article is an example. If you have any further questions I would be willing to answer them in person.

Generally my experience of the major professional bodies, the BACP, UKCP etc is that they are large, remote, impersonal, and assume an authority they have never been granted. They seek to monopolise the psychotherapeutic field, rarely collaborate with one another and are there to protect their own interests and members (the therapists) and not those of the client (you can probably see from this where the Client’s Voice Movement started). One consequence of this is that these organisations are not the best place for a client to make a complaint about one of their member’s work. They have a vested interest in their organisation being seen by its current and prospective members as well as the public not to be populated by poor quality practitioners. A friend (and therapist colleague) who did raise a complaint against a practitioner found the experience thoroughly dissatisfying. The process re-traumatised her and resulted in little more than a slapped wrist for the therapist involved.

My advice to anyone I know who is in therapy and is considering making a complaint against their therapist is to first try your utmost to resolve the issue with the therapist yourself, if necessary with the help of a third party/advocate of your choice meeting the therapist with you. If this proves unsuccessful I would say to walk away and move on, unless there are sufficient grounds to bring a civil case in which case the advice of a solicitor should be sought.

I did have a more significant interaction with another organisation, The Independent Practitioners Network (IPN) and their underlying principles appear to be quite sound. It is based on a network of small groups within one wider network. This face-to-face peer based system has great merits in terms of support and accountability. The small scale of IPN means overheads are kept to a minimum - so no large membership and accreditation fees are involved as with the larger organisations. Such large fees discourage part-time practice as they make it uneconomic to practice (I heard the field of acupuncture suffers from this to a greater degree with the closed shop of the governing body being tied into insurance provision). For me, I see part-time practice as essential to my well-being and hence the effectiveness of the work. Part-time working helps me avoid burn-out and maintain a soulful life independent of therapy. To be emotionally and financially dependent on the work risks introducing an unhealthy dependency of the therapist on the client. IPN does have its faults though, most notably where it tries to act as a whole on the wider stage and it’s “accreditation” system has some fundamental flaws.

I have had my fill of Psychotherapy politics. I no longer want to put effort into trying to change others and simply prefer to get on with the work in an ethical way based on my own hard won experience and understanding of the practice of psychotherapy. I have been described as a Heretic and a Conscientious Objector; I don't mind either of these labels. Unlike most other practitioners I do not blindly submit to others assumed authority over me or my work.

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Training to be a psychotherapist is becoming an increasingly academic and impersonal exercise with more and more University’s offering courses, even online courses! If we go back to the route of the word psychotherapy - to attend to soul, how would you train do that? What did people do before psychotherapy was invented, was the soul ignored? In fact, Jung was against the formation of a training school in his name, possibly due to the inherent contradiction between being trained to do something and the honouring of individual uniqueness. Originally there was not the plethora of training schools or even forms of therapy there are today. Prospective therapists would undertake a training analysis, wherein they would enter therapy with a training analyst until such time that they both felt the trainee was ready to work with clients under the supervision of the training analyst. Large lectures were available to attend but the individual development of the therapist was self-directed under the guidance of the training analyst. Psychotherapy work is carried out one to one, and, as I see it, so should most of the training be. In this set up, learning would largely be self-directed, with the individual recognising their own weaknesses and specialties and seeking to rectify, or further them respectively. This would set the therapist on an ongoing path of individual development (independent of any one particular training school with it's limited scope for development) and would dispense with the artificial delimitation of qualified/not qualified. It would also avoid the churning out of therapists who can only qualify if they conform to and adopt the methods of their particular training school. A student developing their own way of working inevitably sets the student in conflict with the training school who can only graduate the student if they conform. If the training schools let go of their possessive grip on “their” students and opened their doors to all, there would still be a place for them in the provision of lectures and perhaps basic courses in listening skills. The dynamics of the training scenario can, and do unconsciously transfer into the therapeutic relationship, installing in the therapist an attitude of superiority, arrogance, knowing better, authority, power-over, possessiveness, conformity etc., all of which are detrimental to the well being of the client

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I started my therapy training with a postgraduate three-year course (over four years) in Integrative Psychosynthesis at Revision in 1990, starting work with clients in 1993. I attended various weekend workshops and retreats to compliment this work. The founder of Psychosynthesis was Roberto Assagioli. Like Jung, he was a student of Freud’s, who saw that Freud was not seeing that we are more than just a result of our past. Assagioli building on his study of the Western Mystery Traditions developed Psychosynthesis to redress this imbalance. Assagioli’s work and Psychosynthesis are often taken out of context as he wrote little about what Freud had already covered. That Revision addressed this omission and kept training groups small in number was what attracted me to their course.
Towards the end of my training at Revision, I chose to seek the help of an Analytic Psychologist, Nicholas Spicer who could see the mis-use of transference I was expected to employ in order to graduate. Nicholas Spicer, now deceased, undertook his training analysis with Mary-Louise von Franz, Jung's close collaborator. This supervisory relationship continued for twelve years and helped me form the core of my working style. It was here that my Jungian influences were furthered and my use of dreams cultivated. In some ways, my training only really began after graduating.

Recognising that my work lacked some kind of centre or embodiment I undertook the nine-month introductory course to Core Process Psychotherapy at the Karuna Institute. Core Process Psychotherapy is underpinned by Buddhist psychology and having attended several Vipassanna meditation retreats I felt attracted by the link between meditation and psychotherapy. I did not realise at the time just how much I stood to gain from this course. The struggle I had in marrying my Western psychology based Psychosynthesis training with the Eastern psychology based Core Process psychotherapy proved very fruitful. It gave me another perspective, unifying elements of experience and psychology previously disparate and isolated. My training at Revision was based on an attempt to integrate several of the modern psychotherapies under the umbrella of Psychosynthesis. Whilst this had its advantages, overall it actually lacked integration. The Core Process training gave me an anchor point from which to integrate the parts.

I gained five years experience working as a volunteer in the Art Therapy department of a Psychiatric hospital. Helping co-facilitate an in-patient Art therapy group and assisting in the drop in facility the department offered. This work gave me experience of working with clients with psychotic symptoms and under medication. This has helped me be with clients in distress and read the movements of the soul at a deeper level.

In Bristol I ran a private psychotherapy practice for fourteen years working with many individuals over both the long and short term. Presenting issues have been wide and varied including addictions, bereavement, depression, physical illness, relationship difficulties, with my speciality appearing to be in people's experience of lacking purpose and meaning, or the midlife crisis. I have provided supervision to managers and counsellors of an Inner City Drugs Project and the Dementia Care Trust, as well as to psychotherapists and alternative practitioners from the fields of acupuncture, homeopathy, massage, nutritional therapy and shiatsu. I provide supervision for a Counselling Training based in Bristol. I have helped train volunteer counsellors/carers in Listening Skills and lead group courses and workshops in Here and Now therapy. Over the years I have undergone sixteen years of personal psychotherapy including Psychoynthesis and Jungian approaches. I was a member of the Bristol Psychotherapy Association Committee and have presented talks at The CG Jung Lectures, Bristol and The Bath Psychotherapy Association.

Other than attending the CG Jung lectures in Bristol or talks put on by the Bath Analytic Network, I am not undergoing any formal training at the moment and keep this situation under review. I undertake research for my writing (articles on this site) and am currently preparing the follow up to a paper I presented at the C.G. Jung Public Lectures in Bristol -
Clarifying and Re-mystifying Transference and Counter-Transference: A Guide to avoiding Procrustean Psychotherapy

For more details of this year's lecture programme

I have an established small-private practice in Frome and engage supervision at a level suitable to my client load. I am a Husband, Father to two children, and so along with family life (including being a step-father to two children, and now a Grandfather) and renovating  our house, I feel I am living a soulful life.

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Original text - May 2007. Minor updates October 2010, November 2011, February 2012, October 2014, November 2015. January 2017.


Individual Psychotherapy,
Counselling & Supervision
in Frome and Somerset.

07812 544542 (Mob)
01373 467733 (Home)

Gary Tomkins BA Hons., Dip.