Oriented to health
At the heart of Core Process Psychotherapy is the understanding that we are, at our core, inherently vibrant and healthy, but that adverse experiences (often from very early in our lives) can cause us to lose connection with this part of ourselves. These adverse experiences might be intensely painful and frightening experiences (sometimes referred to as ‘shock trauma’), such as physical or sexual abuse, or the loss of a loved one. Or they might be experiences that are less obviously traumatic, such as repeatedly being scolded or shamed for crying or expressing anger as little ones; or not receiving quite enough affection; or feeling on some level that we are not fully acceptable just as we are (sometimes referred to as ‘developmental -’ or ‘relational trauma’).
So the orientation in Core Process is not towards ‘fixing’ anything or finding labels, but rather, towards helping us to reconnect with our own inherent health. This usually involves working with the pain that is there, and the protective layers we have unconsciously built up, which obscure connection to this place. (An example of a protective layer could be a tendency to push others away when we’re actually in real need of support; or to hold in our anger until the point of exploding.) Bringing curiosity and awareness, within the containment and safety of the therapeutic relationship, to our protective layers, and to the painful feelings we may have been protecting ourselves from, can, over time, allow these layers to soften and fall away. The therapeutic process can feel like a gradual stripping away of what isn’t really me; a process that ultimately allows us to relate to ourselves and others with greater authenticity, spontaneity, and freedom.
Core Process Psychotherapy is the original mindfulness-based psychotherapy in the UK. Some people see the word ‘mindfulness’, and imagine that sessions might involve sitting together learning mindfulness meditation techniques; but this is rarely the case. What it means, in the context of Core Process Psychotherapy, is that we will be bringing curiosity, together, to what is happening for you in this moment: What sensations, thoughts, emotions, images, questions do you notice coming up for you right now?
This is not to say that your personal history isn’t important, and very welcome in the space - it absolutely is. But rather than exploring past events purely on the level of the cognitive, we will be bringing awareness to what else is going on for you now, as you bring these experiences to mind. Neuroscience tells us that unless we combine cognitive insight with embodied process, little change is likely to happen. If we were to work solely on a cognitive level, you may leave therapy with a detailed understanding of why you respond to situations as you do, but without any actual shift in terms of how you relate to yourself, to others and to your experience.
Underpinned by neuroscience
Core Process Psychotherapy is underpinned by understandings from the field of neuroscience. These days we have a much better understanding of how painful and traumatic experiences impact not only our brain functioning, but our entire autonomic nervous system (the branch of our nervous system that, amongst other things, lets us know whether we are safe or in danger). Our autonomic nervous system and the 'adult', rational parts of our brain are not able to communicate very well, which means that while, on a rational level we may know we are safe, our bodies may sometimes be responding as if we were under imminent threat.
This is one of the reasons why a ‘top down’ approach (ie: attempting to change our feelings by addressing our patterns of thinking) is much more effective when used in combination with a ‘bottom up’ approach, which means working with what is happening on a bodily level. Trauma usually leads to some degree of nervous system dysregulation. By beginning to bring awareness, at a safe pace and within the safety of the therapeutic relationship, to the subtle bodily shifts that happen as we move between different nervous system states, we can learn, over time, to regulate our systems at this deeper level.
Core Process Psychotherapy is not something that ‘happens to you’; rather, it is a process in which we are both actively engaged. When it feels appropriate, I will bring in aspects of theory and psychoeducation that feel relevant. Building up a cognitive understanding of how we work can provide us with a kind of map and compass, which is hugely empowering when it comes to navigating our lives. I’m very aware of the power dynamic inherent in the client-therapist relationship, and, by sharing my understandings, I aim to go some way towards levelling things out, and to some extent ‘demystifying’ the process (although there are aspects of the the therapeutic process that are profoundly mysterious).
Core Process Psychotherapy is accredited by United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), and is an integrative, embodied approach that brings together knowledge from western approaches (including attachment theory, psychodynamic understandings, humanistic psychology, trauma work and neuroscience) with understandings from Buddhism. It’s an approach people can deeply benefit from, whether or not they have any spiritual beliefs or interest in Buddhism.