Applied Metapsychology:
Therapy or Personal Growth?

By Frank Gerbode, M.D.


Excerpted from the Spring 1995 issue of the Institute for Research in Metapsychology Newsletter


Nine years ago, when we first established the Institute for Research in Metapsychology (IRM) and started doing facilitating and training, no one had heard of us. We did not have to worry about what kind of impression we were making on the world, because we were actually making little or no impression at all! Now, as TIR and other applications of metapsychology become better known, we find ourselves having to make decisions about how to characterize the work we are doing.

Most work on personal change or improvement being done today falls into two camps: therapy, and what I will call "personal growth". As facilitators, some of us tend to characterize the work we do as a kind of therapy; others among us prefer to regard our work as the facilitation of personal growth.

Viewing as Therapy

There are a number of reasons why it is tempting to characterize our work as a form of therapy:

Viewing as Personal Growth

On the other hand, there are also good reasons for us to perceive as well as label ourselves in a non-therapeutic way:

What is Applied Metapsychology Really?

The above are practical considerations that bear upon how we label our work, but the real answer to what we are doing should come from an honest examination of that work to see in what category it truly falls, not just what it might be convenient to call it.

To answer this question honestly, we must examine the core - even the defining - concept of metapsychology: the person-centered viewpoint. Metapsychology is the study of human experience, as seen from the point of view of the experiencer. Built into the application of metapsychology we call "viewing" is the concept that the client is the sole arbiter of what is real or unreal, good or bad, for herself. The client is respected as the ultimate authority on her own universe. Further- more, the client is the sole judge of what constitutes improvement for herself. Hence, the client is entirely responsible for setting the goals of viewing.

Metapsychology vs. the Medical Model

The fundamental metapsychological viewpoint outlined above does not align well with the medical model on which the concept of psychotherapy is based. According to that model: From the metapsychological viewpoint, this approach is entirely wrong-headed. The first problem is that the medical model on which psychotherapy is based places the locus of control squarely with the therapist. According to this model, the client is a "patient" and hence powerless. Although the client is expected to cooperate with the therapist, it is the therapist who is supposed to do the work. In Aristotelian terms, the therapist is "efficient cause", and the patient is merely a "material cause". In other words, the patient provides the raw materials out of which the therapist molds the cure. In viewing, it is the viewer who is the principal causative agent, the "efficient cause". The facilitator provides structure, and the viewer's mental and physical environment provides the content for the viewer to work on. In other words, the facilitator is merely a material cause in this case, along with the viewer's environment. This means that the whole ideology of viewing is structured to empower the client or viewer, whereas the ideology of therapy is structured to empower the therapist and, implicitly, to disempower the client.

The second problem lies with the concept of "normality". From the person-centered viewpoint, it is up to the client to decide what she wants to have in the way of behaviors, emotions, and thoughts. It is the facilitator's job to help the client achieve them. The facilitator does not "diagnose" from the outside, based on observation of the client, and there is no fixed state of "normality" to achieve.

Thirdly, the medical model is entirely a "negative gain" model. Its definition of "health" is "the absence of illness". There is no prescription or accounting for the possibility of a positive direction in which growth could occur, beyond normality. And that's a problem because - let's face it - the normal state of human affairs is none too good. The personal growth model is superior to the healing or therapeutic model, in this respect. It also allows for an indefinite amount of positive gain - how much depends entirely on how far the viewer is willing to go and how much he or she is willing to put into it.

Personal Improvement

What we are aiming for as facilitators is not a change into some particular state of being but simply a change for the better, "better" being defined by the client. That's why, in our work, although we do have a Curriculum with different "Sections" that a viewer can go through in a certain order, we don't identify them as "levels" or "states". They are simply areas of life - potential stumbling blocks - a person can address systematically to gain an improvement, and when the viewer has attained an improvement she is satisfied with for the time being, she moves on to the next Section. The Sections of the Curriculum address (amongst other things) memory improvement, communication, problem resolution, alleviation of guilt and hostility, overcoming resistance to change, discharging past traumas, and moving out of fixed ideas. When one has completed a certain area, it doesn't mean that there is nothing more to handle in that area. The viewer can always revisit that Section of the Curriculum at a later time and make still more improvement in it. Thus, there are no "status" considerations of having completed a particular Curricular Section.

Personal improvement, then, is not the attainment of a fixed condition but a betterment in one's current condition (see Figure 1).

If we look at the progression of an individual's life from being in "bad condition", through being in "acceptable condition", to being in "superb condition", what we see is simply a progression in personal improvement. We can adapt the concept of therapy to this model if, instead of referring to "normality", we refer to "acceptability" as its goal, and if we modify our thinking to regard the client as the means by which this improvement is being done, and the improvement being, not in the client, but in the client's mental and physical environment. In this modified sense of the term "therapeutic", we could say that any method used for human betterment may be therapeutic if it is used to help people whose lives are in "bad condition" to bring their lives into an "acceptable condition". And the same technique may be a "personal growth" technique if it is used to bring a person up from having a merely acceptable life to having one that is truly superb - again, from that person's viewpoint - a type of life that is more desirable than most people would regard their life as being.

TIR, for instance, can be used either for therapy (in the modified sense given above) or for personal growth. For a person whose life is in "bad condition" because he is suffering from painful anxiety or the symptoms of PTSD, TIR can be used therapeutically to make life more acceptable to that person. The very same technique can be used later on in the viewer's Curriculum to help him become extremely resilient and stable, free from much in the way of the future possibility of triggering. Communication exercises done as part of the Communication Section of the Curriculum may be redone at any point to improve concentration, communication skills, and general ability to confront life and other people, or even to acquire skill as a facilitator. Viewing, in other words, is best perceived as neither inherently therapeutic in intent nor, primarily, as a means for personal growth beyond the normal. It is best seen as a way of achieving personal improvement in either the "therapeutic" range or the "personal growth" range.

Applied Metapsychology as Education

Viewing, in fact, is primarily educational in its intent, like various spiritual practices, martial arts, or athletic training. Meditation can be prescribed to help a very dissociated person control his attention; it can also be used by a stably happy person to attain high spiritual states. Viewing is also like weight training: while the latter may be used as part of a rehabilitation program for someone with a back injury, it can also be used to do major body building or as training for championship athletics. In other words, many improvement techniques, including all methods based on metapsychology, are neither inherently personal-growth-oriented nor therapeutic - they may be used for either purpose.

Training, viewing, and consultation - currently the three major applications of metapsychology - are best viewed as the three principal forms of education. They represent, respectively:

  1. Receptive education
  2. Integrative education
  3. Creative education.

Education falls naturally into these three stages. First we must have some kind of input of data. Secondly, we need to integrate the new data with old data that we have learned previously and with our whole world-view. Without this integration, the data is "indigestible" and unusable. Thirdly, we need to go out and apply that which we have learned to "real life". That is the creative phase - we must use our knowledge to create better conditions in life. In fact, a good test of whether one has integrated a certain set of data is to find out whether one can go ahead and use it creatively in life. Unintegrated data is not usable.

Thus, we offer training courses to teach important life skills (e.g.,communication and empathy) as well as professional skills (principally facilitation).

Viewing is entirely integrative education. The facilitator never adds more data to what the viewer already has. She merely assists the viewer in achieving a better integration into his world view of the data he already has, so that he can achieve a world view that is more workable for him. She does this in a Socratic manner - by asking the right questions, rather than by attempting to provide the right answers.

Finally, we use consultation to help a client put into practice in life what he has learned in training and viewing. One form of consultation is the "Schema Program", designed principally by Steve and Lori Beth Bisbey from England. We use the Schema Program to help clients to put order into their lives.

Sometimes people need a fair amount of integrative education (viewing) before they are ready to receive more data or apply data they already have. In school, from parents, from traumatic incidents, people have often received a great deal of data without having really had a chance to digest and integrate it all into a coherent world-view. Once they have achieved a full integration of what they have already learned and experienced, then they become good candidates for training, and then they can go out and live more effective lives, with or without consultation.

Summary

Applied metapsychology cannot fully be encompassed under either the rubric of therapy or that of personal growth. It is a form of education that results in personal improvement - movement in a positive direction, whether from a bad condition to an acceptable or better one, or from an acceptable condition to a superb one. In fact, applied metapsychology can be used for either therapy or personal growth, but is not inherently either one.