The National Council of Psychotherapists
Holomotive Psychotherapy: Attention into Right Relationship
Christopher K. Johannes, PhD, HMD
In this article, I would like to share with you some basic tenets and guiding principles out of my integrative therapy approach that I have termed ‘Holomotive Psychotherapy’. Many, if not most of us, are to varying degrees ‘integrative’ psychotherapists in that we draw on and integrate a variety of conceptualisation strategies, assessment and intervention skills, and clinical, relational and process methods based on a number of theoretical schools of psychotherapy. In doing so, each of us is faced with the task of distilling an integrative approach uniquely congruent with our own being and ‘meaning world’, such that there will be quite a bit of variability in practise and style among integrative therapists. This is, in fact, essential if we are to retain a humanistic element in our profession and not deteriorate into technical automatons.
In an era of increasing ‘evidence-based’ accountability and ‘managed care’, common characteristics of integrative therapists tend to include attempts to tailor process and intervention methodologies to suit the particular nature of the client and their presenting concerns in a given context and along a certain frame of time, development and acculturation. This is a sound concept. However, simply having a ‘bigger bag of tricks’ without a sound underpinning philosophy, principles or experience that coherently guide the ‘tricks’ of your integration is an ill-conceived, immature and unprofessional approach that may do nothing more than palliate, symptom shift and provide a short-term ‘fix’. At worst, if ungrounded, such ‘grab-bag’ therapy may even be damaging and result in a loss of trust and confidence in seeing a psychotherapist in the future. So, despite being a ‘continuous work in progress’, for those of us who are not classicists or purists, integrating what we do necessitates some guiding principles that give coherence and direction to our work with clients.
Here, in my own work in progress, I offer a few fundamental philosophical and guiding principles out of my own ‘Holomotive’ approach that may be helpful and drawn upon in your own work.
Holomotive vs. Holistic Psychotherapy
While a complete exposition of Holomotive Psychotherapy (HP) is obviously beyond the scope of this article, at least a few distinguishing characteristics seem in order. ‘Holomotive’ is composed of ‘Holos’, here meaning a unique, organismic (living system), irreducible and integrated whole and denotes a level of consciousness congruent to this whole. ‘Motive’, here means in perpetual, dynamic and teleological movement, process and relational flux, unfoldment and development. Teleological implies a purposeful movement and directionality and invokes the philosophical principle of entelechy—a guiding pulse of purpose to each unique, whole living system. In simplified terms, ‘Holomotive’ can be understood as a ‘whole in purposeful relational movement’ or as ‘seeking wholeness and purposeful relational movement’ out of some existing Holomotive disposition that has lived out its teleological intents and entelechal balance—in other words, a being living out of congruent and harmonious relationship with one or more life domains.
While Holomotive Psychotherapy is indeed holistic, it should not be confused with ‘Holistic Psychotherapy’, which, depending on the practitioner can have little actual meaning. The term holistic has become so misused and cheapened that you can, in effect, argue that any therapy is or can be made holistic through its systemic effects on all levels of being. When core elements are examined, many holistically oriented practitioners, despite posturing and lip service to the contrary, often do very little that is truly holistic and that can justify the distinction and differentiation from other approaches. Just because you include a focus on a more encompassing level of being, for example, such as your relationship to Spirit, God, or the Divine, does not necessarily make you holistic. Neither does offering a bottle of aromatherapy, background music or a pat on the back!
So, while ‘holomotive’ may or may not sound more sexy to you, please do not confuse the two. Holomotive Psychotherapy has distinguishing features and in the next sections I shall introduce its two central and interdependent principles, Attention and Right Relationship—very straightforward and simple guiding concepts that can be very complex and challenging to negotiate in practice.
M.I.N.D. and Attention
Holomotive Psychotherapy seeks to mobilise, enhance and develop the individual’s ‘Multimodal Integrative Noetic Development’ (M.I.N.D.) systems to promote optimal health, adaptivity, functioning, ‘resource agency’, and relationship across all levels of relationship—with self, with other(s), with ecology, environmental context and nature, with institution, idea and artefact, with soul, energy and archetype, and with spirit, the cosmos and the divine. A pretty tall order, admittedly, but one that is true to the term psychotherapy, where the psyche is treated as originally coined and conceptualised by Aristotle. Holomotive Psychotherapy takes the function of psychotherapy in its literal Aristotelian sense as that therapy that seeks to assist the ‘psyche’—the noetic essence (noetic meaning the ‘knowing’ faculty, or the conscious epistemological and metaphysical life force that inflect and reflect your thoughts, felt experience and behaviours), to come into optimal relationship with the various elements and forces of life toward greater self-realisation, enhanced ‘knowing’ capacity and the conduct of self in ways congruently unique to its nature and evolutionary intent.
Thus, Holomotive Psychotherapy’s greatest directive, intervention, advice and guidance: “Pay Attention” ! Holomotive Psychotherapy (HP), sees individuals as doing their best naturally and healthfully, whether consciously or unconsciously, to manage the above process of realisation and relationship given the constraints of circumstance, but also sees individuals, if you’ll kindly pardon the pun, at varying degrees of ‘attention deficit disorder’. By ‘Attention’, I am referring to the epistemological faculty that must use various means of ‘attending to’ to know about the world and any experience.
Many old traditions recognise the ‘three eyes of knowledge’ (the three basic kinds of Attention) as the eye of the senses, the eye of the mind (cognition, rationality, reason and logic) and the eye of contemplation, intuition and transpersonal realisation. Humanity has spent thousands of years developing reliable, well validated, tried and tested methods of ‘attending’ with each of the three eyes, recognising that different aspects of ourselves and our relationships with the world around us call for skilled attending with each or a confirming or transposing combination of eyes, with the relative focus and order of each eye’s gaze depending on what aspect of reality we wish to ‘see’.
Grounded in a systems perspective, HP sees the world in a constant and systemic inter-dynamic feedback relationship of everything constantly communicating and exchanging ‘in-form-ation’ with everything else to varying degrees. When one or more ‘eyes’ are not functioning optimally at the right time, this feedback relationship and communication system may provide what appears to be manifestly ‘false’ information, too much information, or no information at all such that personal growth and development become ‘stuck’ (or take misguided ‘shortcuts’), relationships with others and the world become maladaptive and other dysfunctional and unfulfilling behaviour.
HP’s basic philosophy states that action and experience derive out of how well the world is attended to or ‘seen’. Not everything needs to be seen (attended to), but that which is not seen (not attended to, and thus, not conscious) and needs to be seen, may not be properly integrated or acted upon correctly. If, for example, you are unskilled at the eye of sensation, you may ignore or subvert a physical process that may be attempting to get your attention. If unskilled in confirming and translating what is seen with different eyes, you might create false separations, attributions and not realise intrinsic connections such as those between ‘mind’ and ‘body’. If, for example, you wish to identify with or understand how you relate to a tree, an ocean, a star, spotted owls, or a ‘life-force’, you may need to hone your eye of contemplation.
What may be observed (known through being attended to) with one eye may not be confirmable, translatable or otherwise known to another. Conversely, one or all others may be necessary for confirmation of what is known and then perhaps the fruit of this knowledge brought into lived experience and relationships through ‘translation’ and action of the person’s primary ‘workaday’ eye.
Love, compassion, justice and morality are good examples. Again, that which is not known can not be appropriately acted upon or integrated (as, for example, when people act on untested assumptions and radical, extreme or irrational beliefs without the valid knowledge that comes from proper skills of ‘Attention’). One of HP’s basic therapeutic goals then, that contextualise and run through the integration of interventions, is the psycho-educational and experiential skill building of various means and modalities of Attention (epistemology, eyes of knowledge) depending on which ‘eye’ is more or less active, deficient or absent for the given concerns, circumstance and goals for therapy.
Actual interventions HP uses draw heavily from Gestalt, Somatic, Cognitive-Behavioural, Systems, Eastern and Transpersonal psychotherapies. On some occasions, it will call for paying attention to how food is chewed, on others; it may call for a classical Vipassana meditative approach of attending to the flow of thoughts and felt experience. However, as most of us apparently navigate the world mainly with our ‘eye of mind’, HP allies with this frame of reference, drawing heavily on the verbally mediated and established Cognitive-Behavioural (CBT) approaches. Where HP differs on this level is in its coaching and extending of the recognised cognitive distortions (e.g. selective abstraction, arbitrary inference, over generalisation, absolutistic thinking, personalisation, magnification/minimisation ) and reality testing to include ‘heuristic’ or critical thinking errors. These are short-cuts and errors in thinking that can be broadly classified into reasoning fallacies (e.g. ad populum, ad hominem, ad ignantiam, false dilemma, saint/devil effect, availability error, red herring, straw man, after-the-fact reasoning, begging the question), fallacies intended to maintain a claim (e.g. obedience, conformity, group think, misplaced consistency, bold mistaken for true, coincidence, emotive and false analogies, representativeness, over-reliance on authorities) and fallacies to defend a claim (e.g. Ignoring the evidence, over-confidence, false intuition, anecdotes as science, distorting the evidence ) (see Taleff, 2001, for a fuller explanation of each of these).
So, in sum, underlying the integration of various interventions in HP, a basic profile of the client’s areas of Attention deficits, excesses or absences are drawn and therapeutically addressed within the context of environment, circumstance and goals for therapy. Ideally, in the true sense of the word, ‘psych’otherapy will assist the client’s Multimodal (modalities of attention, ‘eyes’) Integrative Noetic (Attention, conscious wholeness) Development—their M.I.N.D.—in realising meaning and purpose, identity development and ‘right relationship’ that leads to optimal health and well-being.
The importance of ‘relationship’ has already been introduced above, but might benefit from a bit more elaboration in HP terms.
Essentially, manifestly everything exists in relationship to everything else in a perpetual creative, maintaining, transforming and transcending process and cycles of relating ever more and ever whole. And that which does not or comes prior, as many great sages through the ages have said, apparently ‘attend’ to these relationships as well for their own ineffable realisation, unfoldment and being.
Human beings are relational creatures—relational to themselves, others, environment and cosmos—relational to all a human being’s eyes (of Attention) can be cast upon. All manner of suffering and psychosocial challenge may be conceptualised as relational in nature. Complexing ever more relations together results in ever new wholes—new, more encompassing and inclusive identities with qualities, properties, skills, talents, abilities and ranges of experience, and yes, Attention and MIND, unique to the new whole. Varying modes of consciousness, morality and social behaviour result. Varying relations will be the ‘centre of gravity’ for a particular mode of being in the world and for the form of the given complaints.
In short, all human concerns can be conceptualised as systemic or relational in nature and HP integrates this understanding into the therapy process by drawing up and addressing the ‘relationship domains most amiss’—those engendering, those maintaining, as well as those pushing and pulling for transcendence of the given concerns into a new whole on the Holomotive path. This conceptualisation is part of the fundamental backdrop that under-girds integrated case analysis, assessment and interventions.
So what does the term ‘Right’ in right relationship mean? The term ‘right’ invokes the teleological essence of the client’s presenting concerns. Recall, from the beginning of this article, that ‘Holomotive’ sees each individual as having an inner pulse of purpose—an ‘original Intent’. Behaviour is seen as purposeful, whether realised or not. This ‘Intent’ is the entelechal essence at the centre of the person’s existence that is theoretically evident in every expression and person-environment transaction (the ‘Motive’ in Holomotive).
Yet, this is a different concept from ‘determined fate’. Imagine an empty book with a title that suggests a mythological theme—an archetypal challenge or struggle that calls for active and creative CHOICE and levels of empowerment to fill in the pages and determine the number of pages, the outcome and any possible sequel—and you’ll get the basic idea here. As such, ‘right’ means what is congruent, relationally coherent and has a ‘motive-ating’ (compels you, fills you with purpose and direction, moves you to action, affords a meaningful or optimal sense of ‘being’ in living) felt sense of ‘on-trackness’ in that particular person’s unfoldment and phenomenologically constructed world of meaning. As discerning the ‘rightness’ of relationship can be very elusive, it requires exquisite skills of Attention—in short, where Attention and Intention interface. An exploration and awareness of this interface forms the backdrop for the therapy process and in informing the kind of interventions used and integrated toward a coherent and collaborative so-called ‘treatment plan’.
Much of the meat of the therapy process occurs when the elusivity of relational rightness at the interface of the Attention-Intention matrix is explored. As alluded to above, the elusivity of the process comes in when Attention and mere descriptive profiles of congruent and relational functioning of their own only provide ‘data, visions and findings’. When M.I.N.D. skills are sharpened, the meaningful ‘rightness’ or ‘not rightness’ of relationship often becomes unmistakably self-evident to the client. However, the inter-subjective contextual complexity of living and the therapy process itself will usually require to varying degrees the ontological, hermeneutic and interpretive—in other words the ‘meaning making’ and social-consensual ‘validation’—processing of what has been gathered through Attentive means. This process puts colour, contrast and shape to ‘rightness’ of the relations being attended to, particularly when the ‘rightness’ is not immediately evident. This is also where the therapeutic savvy of the humanistic-existential traditions are integrated into the HP mix.
In drawing up a relational profile, practically, your initial interviewing, history and information gathering skills, your observation and your own Attention skills, and your relational encounter with the client will afford you the most valuable information. HP pays particular attention to any incongruities or inconsistencies at any level of being or relating, looking at how these ‘in-form’ and inter-activate other areas of relationship and being. It also pays particular attention to psychosomatic complaints, coping style, adaptivity to change, range and capacity of expressivity, areas of particularly strong desiderata (with questions such, “What are you now doing, that you don’t want to be doing, that you can’t or won’t seem to stop doing?”, and, “What are you not now doing, that you’d rather be doing, that you can’t or won’t seem to start doing?”) and how they have their T.E.A.—how they manage and direct their Time, Energy and Attention in life (‘Attention’ in this acronym refers to their predominant focus of activity and interest at the current time).
This article was written not only to introduce Holomotive Psychotherapy, but also to illustrate the importance of distilling your own guiding philosophy that underpins an integrated practise. As a snapshot of a work in progress, it is incomplete, under constant revision and only a very rudimentary sketch of a complex theme. I offer it to stimulate thought, reflection and discussion toward finding the best ways to serve your clients in your own integrative way.
Counselling. Directions in Mental Health Counselling, Vol 10, L6, 63-70.