Psychology and Complementary Therapies

Profile of an APS Psychologist

Caroline Raphael MAPS

This may seem somewhat of a bold statement, but psychology alone does not have all the answers

To believe it does puts a lot of pressure on us as practitioners, this belief will drive us to overwork, to over explore and over burden ourselves to find answers that alone may be unachievable. Equally if our clients have this belief they too will put all the pressure and the responsibility on to us to solve their problems. One of the main areas currently crippling the health system is clients/patients not taking responsibility in doing their bit in their healing process. They often hand over full responsibility to their treating medical practitioners, pharmaceuticals and psychologists, wanting the answers but often not being prepared to do what is necessary to support themselves. This puts a lot of pressure on others to perform and would be a main contributor to stress, exhaustion and burnout in our profession. 

For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a psychologist, however whilst studying I have to admit I became pretty disillusioned; I couldn’t understand what statistics had to do with people and wondered where the love was. There was so much theory about why people do what they do, what is hereditary and what is environmental but very little to do with one on one relating with people.

Eighteen months in I was ready to throw in the towel… I was a school psychologist responsible for the well-being of 600 students, their parents and teachers. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I would refer to books and look for more and more theories to support me but I was sinking in a sea of emotions. Somehow with all my training and all my knowledge I was missing something. It turns out I was missing me. Everyone thought I was doing a great job, I had students lining up to see me yet, I knew something was wrong. I was getting more and more burnt out and more and more unhappy and dis-connected from everyone. Ironically-I was the expert giving presentations on self-care but I was most definitely not practicing what I was preaching.I knew that how I was being with me was impacting on how I was with others. How can you have rapport with another if you have none with yourself?

Thankfully, not too far into my career I came across an organization that was all about self-care and self-responsibility, which practiced modalities that supported building a stronger connection to the body. What I have come to understand is my body is far wiser than my head. My body tells me things my head would rather dismiss. By working with the body clients are given a take home instructor, one that they can come to listen to and trust. As psychologists we cannot nor would we want to be with our clients day and night, but if we support them to understand the value of their body they will know that their greatest intelligence is always with them.

Today I live more vibrantly and joyfully than ever before, I can work incredibly long hours, see up to 8 or 9 clients a day 4 days a week; I am involved in a great deal of research and have a solid family and social life. I once struggled to see 5 clients a day let alone anything else. All of this has only been possible by the development of my relationship with my body and the understanding that without a body that is in tune and in connection with me I am unable to be there for others. I now know that besides knowledge, skills and rapport there is something far greater and deeper to bring to my work as a psychologist and that is the quality of presence and connection I bring to my clients. The more connected I am, the more deeply I am able to connect to others. 

The relationship between body and mind is critical to my work. The body when connected comes with an innate wisdom and intelligence; it knows things our head cannot. I have found that this understanding between body and mind can be appreciated and achieved through the marriage of complementary medicine and psychology. Unfortunately there seems to be a great deal of confusion about modalities that are actually complementary to medicine and ones that are alternative. Similar to the lay person not understanding the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist there is a critical misunderstanding between complementary and alternative medicine. The crucial difference is that complementary medicine is adjunctive -used to support and enhance whilst alternative medicine is the choice to refuse all other forms of conventional medical treatment. This I do not endorse; true healing requires congruence - methods of treatment and healing that complement one another - that work in unison for the betterment of the whole person. As we would discern a doctor, lawyer, hairdresser or health practitioner so too must we discern the various avenues of treatment or lifestyle change that complement recovery.

Today I am a member of the Psychology and Complementary Therapies Interest group. This group was formed because it recognises that complementary medicine is presently the most rapidly growing area of medicine both in Australia and globally and, like mainstream western medicine, has overlapping areas of interest and professional activity with psychologists. Of course we must only practice within areas of our expertise but I encourage all psychologists to be educated about the established evidence base of many CAM modalities that not only safely complement but are fundamental to psychological wellbeing.