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. 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 a profound transformation, a new relation to suffering and a sense of purpose and meaning to our lives.

There are several levels to my work and what you can expect from us working together.

At the counselling level I offer psychological insight and understanding to your particular situation. There are psychological theories that might help you understand the particular predicament you are in, and help to find a way of resolving, or moving on from it.
Additionally, in me trying to understand your particular situation psychologically, I have to place myself in your shoes. Feeling that someone can fully empathise with your situation brings an acceptance within yourself that can free you in order to act and change that situation.
These two things, psychological understanding and empathy, can help change the problem you are facing or your attitude to the problem. They get the dragon back in the cave so to speak. I do not however want to underplay or belittle the profound effect that simply being accepted for who we are, as we are, can have on us and how we are with our suffering. In fact all that follows, all the supposed more advanced levels of the work are underpinned by this basic principle, that we are actually perfect the way we are. You can't make water any wetter.

At a traditional psychotherapeutic level, but in reality operating concurrently to the counselling level, I offer, for want of a better analogy, dragon riding lessons. This work is difficult to describe, but involves being held in or, between two opposing forces and feeling, or living through what can be experienced as an unbearable tension, without moving to resolve the situation in any of our normal, neurotic or dysfunctional ways. To use Jung's words "Psychotherapy is an opus contra natrum", it is a work against (what feels like) our own nature. It is in this crucible that personal transformation (rather than adjustment) occurs. I can't tell you how you will change or what the outcome will be. Together, we; me, you and your problem (that probably proved unresolvable through counselling), form the vessel, provide the material and the heat, for the process of transformation. What emerges at the end can not be known in advance. What can be said though, is that this does take a long time and the eventual transformation is both subtle and profound, and by no means guaranteed. There is no set technique that brings this about, the conditions can be created but the outcome is out of our control. In fact, the relinquishing of control and trusting in something larger than ourselves, based on our own direct experience of it (with the help and support of an other) is what opens us to a new experience of reality outside of our habitual, engrained and probably unconscious or egocentric way of doing ourselves. This can feel like a breakdown or crisis in that the usual ways of coping have failed. After all, who goes through hell willingly... as the caterpillar said to the butterfly "you'll never catch me up in one of those things". Who willingly wants to die, rot and pupate? In the words of Ram Dass to a colleague of mine, "the mind often wants to re-arrange the furniture, but never wants to move house". We would rather adapt than change. Whilst crises come in many forms, we are all faced by the inevitable life stage transitions such as adulthood, midlife, old age and death, that are experienced as a defeat for the ego, requiring a different approach, calling us to enter into the process of transformation.

Additionally, I now encourage (but do not insist) that clients take up a mindfulness like meditation practice based on my experience of Core Process Psychotherapy. This develops over time from a solitary practice, carried out in one's own time, to a point where the client is able to be present in the moment to themselves and in relation to me, during our sessions. The previous, and ongoing traditional psychotherapeutic work will have eased a lot of the tensions and apprehensions associated with such immediate intimacy. This can be a very challenging, powerful, intimate and healing experience that brings the clients personal issues, both known and unknown, to the fore. My work with longer term clients has had a tendency to naturally arrive at this place. The introduction of the meditation practice, helps to both embody (or embed) and accelerate the psychotherapeutic process.
I do not not want to underplay how challenging and difficult the culmination of the process is. The therapeutic space is a safe place to explore such intimacy. Being with bare awareness of one's own experience whilst in relation to another, brings any psychological dynamics into actual relationship rather than them being talked about remotely. This can bring up all kinds of feelings both awkward and pleasant. If the awkward feelings can be allowed to pass, then the space can be experienced as one of mutuality, of seeing and being seen, of making sense together. This avoids, or dissolves, the inherent and detrimental authoritarian power over attitude typical of traditional psychotherapies.
People with some experience of this kind of work may see elements of, or resemblances to, the Inter-subjective school of Psychotherapy, Non-Dual Awareness from Contemplative Psychotherapy, Satsang from the Buddhist traditions, and Eye or Soul Gazing from Tantra or Western Mystery traditions.
By being with and embodying our experience we develop a more fluid or sensitive sense of self based on more than who we think, or believe, we are. The work is transpersonal or trans-Egoic (without denying the Ego), putting us in touch with our individual uniqueness and our universal connectedness; Soul and Spirit. To carry on the dragon analogy, it is perhaps best described as living with the dragon (what dragon?). Counselling and psychotherapy can not free you from the inevitable suffering of being human. It can however help you be with that suffering in a better, more skillful way.

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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 through 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.

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.)

Psychotherapy, the talking cure, has long neglected the body. My Core Process training emphasised the importance of the body and the 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 therapist's thoughts, insights, reflections, and feelings.
I am sharply aware of the Patriarchal nature of traditional psychotherapy, the society we live in and the detrimental influence this can have on the therapeutic setting.

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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 (way before Mindfulness became all the vogue) . 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 to 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 provided 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 twenty-one years of personal psychotherapy including Psychosynthesis 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 Analytic Network.

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 present other than attending occasional workshops of interest and keep this situation under review. I undertake research for my writing (articles on this site)
I have an established private practice in Frome and engage in weekly supervision and personal therapy.

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Individual Psychotherapy,
Counselling & Supervision
in Frome and Somerset.

07812 544542 (Mob)

Gary Tomkins BA Hons., Dip.

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


Gary Tomkins BA Hons., Dip.