I attended the 30th anniversary celebrations of Person Centred Therapy Scotland (PCTS) at an event in Glasgow in November 2017. It was a grand event; the culmination of 30 years of collaborative work, training and support on promoting and growing person-centred counselling and therapy in Scotland. It was also interesting that this too was the year of the 30th anniversary of Carl Rogers’ death. In both personal and public ways, his contribution to how we work as therapists and learn about ourselves and our clients was honoured at the event. I had the privilege to be asked to present a conversation and took part in the encounter group on the first day.1
During the first encounter group, I had a vision of being a wave on an ocean. I attempted to talk about my vision and imagining that all of us were like waves on the same ocean and that we could perhaps be in the process of becoming what I saw as the fifth wave in therapy. I had reconnected to this idea from my training where I had learned there were four forces or waves in the development of psychology, and wondered if our time in history had the potential to offer a fifth wave as part of the evolution of therapy. What would this be like? What would emerge if a fifth wave was imagined?
Jacquelyn Small, in her book, Embodying Spirit, writes about the four distinct forces in psychology and recognises what I call the first wave of psychotherapy as being Freud’s theory of the personality and all that followed in the psychodynamic tradition.2 The second wave was about how behaviour could be modified and the third wave offered a view of an unfolding potential self and began the humanistic approach where Rogers and others are found. Finally, the fourth wave considers the transpersonal nature of being human. These four waves are still here today, informing our attempts to help others towards psychological growth and change and have created many separate schools of therapy with different psychological models. However, I believe they are like waves on an ocean, which can appear separate and yet are connected and may all come from the same source. I am reminded of the quote from Rumi (1207–1273): ‘You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.’3
In the conversation I hosted, we sat around a table of about 10 people. At one point, I asked participants to look at their hands and then look at the hands of the other people around the table. I wanted to illustrate that although we may appear separate, we are all connected. There was a moment when everyone put both hands on the table at the same time and it was as if there was a new sort of body created, where our supposed separateness was experienced as being one. And then the moment was gone. This was a very powerful experience for me. I am not sure how others felt, but we proceeded to have a great conversation about the actualising tendency Rogers spoke of and what this meant for the work we were doing.4 Also we discussed what it meant to be open to the notion of ‘more’ in therapy.
For example, is there something that intrinsically moves us towards self-actualisation and can we experience the direction of its presence? Can we prepare for it and does it emerge in the therapeutic relationship? Also, if our best intentions are to help, can we in some way embody the potential for healing when we step into a client’s world? Perhaps our intention to help and the client’s longing to be helped activate the energy of potential transformation, which may be part of the actualisation tendency. For instance, when our client feels in distress, we may meet them in their distress, but only partly, as we are not in distress. We can be in a place of witnessing and empathising, but not fully experiencing their distress as our own. Yet what transforms both the client and the therapist may be the intended relationship, and something more may emerge, if we are open to it.
A client (John) summed up our work together recently and told me he thought I had been a good counsellor. I asked why and John replied that he had never thought he could feel like this as he was now much better. In his own words, he described himself as being weird and messed up and difficult to get to know, and yet somehow he had been able to meet me and have faith in his potential. This was a wonderful compliment, but I have to say that whatever change he had experienced was all down to him. It was his inner world that made the change. I had previously worked with John and had remembered a special birthday. I actually had a note of the date in my diary to send a card, and my diary was open at the page when I received a telephone call. John told me he was struggling again and the only person he could talk to was me. Fortunately, I was able to see him soon after and we worked again for a while. Towards the end of our work together, we remembered a book I had given to him previously with daily affirmations in it. Out of curiosity, we looked up the affirmation for that particular day and it turned out to be very significant for John. It offered a different view of how he might manage things in his life, and the first word that we read in the affirmation was the same word as John’s surname!
So, perhaps there is something more in and beyond our work as therapists that we cannot fully comprehend at this time; and could this be the fifth wave? If we are open to the possibility of a fifth wave in psychology, there may be an opportunity to access its great potential and mystery in our work with clients who need help. I remember a client once told me about seeing the symbol OM spray-painted on a wall when they were feeling very low. They were going through an underpass near where they lived, when suddenly they noticed the symbol. Later, checking out its meaning, they found that OM is believed to be the spoken essence of the universe in Hinduism and Buddhism, encompassing all potentialities.5 Seeing this symbol opened up a whole new perception of reality for them. They found something which felt like a personal message from outside their ordinary reality that offered them something extraordinary. The symbol had a profound impact on them and appeared to affirm some of their higher thoughts and questions about the nature of their existence. It also seemed to have appeared at the right time for them and also at the right time in our work.
I find great comfort in imagining that what we are seeking may be found inside ourselves, and that the potential for this may be present in the therapist and in the client and also in the direction of the therapeutic relationship. A client, Jane, showed me a drawing of a candle she had done, which she found to be a comfort. The light seemed to offer her a sense of hope, even when there was darkness. She described it as her interior candle and she had discovered it for herself. All the work that I could ever imagine doing with Jane seemed to be already done in some way, and perhaps she only needed a witness to her light. Jane’s candle also seemed to find the light in me, and others too, as it gave me an idea to buy some tealights, which I now use in my work with clients.
I remember another client who, as we came to the end of our work, describing it as though we were still connected by a golden thread, and saying they felt we had travelled to all the planets together and had ended up at the sun. They had originally presented with what could be called a dissociative process, and at times I felt like I was working with more than one client. I found this work fascinating, if not daunting at times, and had many hours of supervision. One day, I was eating an orange on the train, travelling back from work, thinking about this client and searching for a way to grasp a better understanding of their world. Taking a piece of the fruit and pulling it slowly apart gave me an image of how the whole orange had a section within it that could appear separate, yet was part of the whole orange. A little segment that could somehow seem disconnected from all the other parts of the orange. This felt like a powerful metaphor for the work with my client. At our next session, I decided to take in an orange and share with them my little story. The client said that they found this helpful. The part of themselves they had experienced as separate felt less threatening to them and it offered them a way of ‘all the bits coming back together.’ I asked if they knew what we should do next. They hesitated and seemed unsure. I said we should just eat the orange! I remember how we both laughed and shared a piece of fruit together in the session.
Another client showed me their painting of both of us sitting on a bench on the planet Mars, wearing our space suits. We were looking at a tiny blue dot in the sky, which they said was the earth, and I was pointing to it. The idea that we are living on a tiny blue dot had so much meaning for the client and helped them not only see how small they were, and insignificant, but inspired them to realise how big they were too, connected to everything in the universe.
There are many stories like these that I have come across with clients where they seem to access some energy from outside themselves and from their imagination, which seems to help them in their healing. It is as if there is a presence of energy that enables change and growth which seems available in some way if the right conditions are attended to in therapy. Perhaps this is where the universe is made welcome in our work as therapists by our being open to the mystery.
If we separate the word ‘insignificance’ it can become ‘in significance’. I like the notion that we are all in significance, and I think our view can only expand when we look for more and have the confidence to look at things differently.
And, finally, there was the client who brought in a photo of themselves as a baby to show me during a session. That particular day, I had also taken in a crystal, wrapped in a little cloth bag. I wanted to show them how the crystal reflected light. As it turned out, my little bag seemed to be made out of the same material and pattern as their baby clothes, and we also discovered that the meaning of the client’s name was light! This was quite remarkable for both of us and in some ways helped deepen our work together.
I know that, to some, the notion of a fifth wave and what I have attempted to describe, may sound rather strange. I am the first to admit that I have a particular interest in the possibility of a fifth wave. However, I am reflecting on some of my work with clients and their unique ways of expressing and understanding themselves, that don’t appear to be mainstream. It seems to help their growth in some way that’s difficult to explain, and it encourages me to explore this further. I am passionate about people being helped to reconnect to parts of themselves and become more of the person they have the potential to be. And what I hope for in my work seems no different to the aspirations of all the others who have been inspired by the development of many therapeutic schools, past and present. I firmly believe that there is something more we can learn from our clients’ experiences too, and trust that there could be more being attended to than we know and that there is a directional presence towards growth, change and healing. And as we are all living in this universe, is the universe somehow able to express itself in us? Also, is the notion of a fifth wave in psychotherapy helpful at all, and could it be part of our evolution? If it is, what does it look like, what does it feel like and, indeed, are we experiencing the fifth wave already, but we just haven’t fully noticed yet?
Mike Moss is employed full time as a counsellor for children and young people by West Lothian Council and is a registered member of BACP. He lives in Edinburgh and has a small private practice offering supervision and training
1. Moss M. On becoming more, in the therapeutic relationship: an exploration of directional presence. COSCA Counselling In Scotland Journal 2017; Spring.
2. Small J. Embodying spirit. London: Harper and Collins; 1994.
3. Jalãl al-din Ru˜mi. Barks C (transl). The essential Rumi. San Francisco: HarperOne; 1997.
4. Rogers CR On becoming a person. London: Constable & Company; 1961.
5. www.thefreedictionary.com/Om (accessed 3 June 2018).