Thinking about psychotherapy I notice that there is an important distinction to be made about two different viewpoints or perspectives. Similar comments can be made about spiritual practice and, no doubt, some other domains of human knowledge. I call these two perspectives the inside view and the outside view. The two are non-commensurable. You cannot readily jump from one to the other and clinging to one can be the bane of the other, a problem which, in my view, is destroying psychotherapy as I originally learnt it.
THE OUTSIDE VIEW
Let me illustrate this by first thinking of the outside view. This is the view of the researcher, theorist or academic. If one of my students tells me that she is going to do some research into psychotherapy, I am encouraging. If she comes back and tells me she has discovered something, I am pleased. Perhaps she has found that sometimes in therapy a certain phenomenon or syndrome occurs. We’ll all it A. She has then found that in cases where A is followed by a second phenomenon, B, there is a statistical probability that C will follow. Let us say that C signifies some outcome generally regarded as desirable or beneficial. My student will be enthusiastic and I shall praise her work. As a piece of research, it is excellent and has added something to our knowledge.
However, if a practitioner now reads this thesis and seeks to apply it, problems arise. This is because the practitioner does not occupy the outside view. The practitioner occupies the inside view, and they muddle the two at the peril of the client. Thus, this practitioner observes that A is happening. She remembers what she has read and seeks to apply B, hoping that C will result. Either this will be completely unsuccessful, or, worse, it will impose B and C upon the client who might not naturally have been going in that direction at all. It may make the client more socially conformist and cowed, but it does not liberate them. Many clients in this situation will collude with the therapist, wishing to please, and will manufacture a semblance of C so that the therapist may feel satisfied and may add them to the list of “successful cases”, which list can then later be further cited as additional “evidence”. However, this is not psychotherapy. This is subtle coercion.
THE INSIDE VIEW
The good practitioner, encountering A, reflects A. When she encounters Z, she reflects Z. Whatever she encounters between A and Z, she responds to it appropriately. She does not mechanically churn out her own method as though clients were items on a standardised production line. Psychotherapy does not exist to render people into items in an industrial process but precisely to liberate them from it. We are already too much robots. Robotic therapy is not therapy at all.
When the good practitioner reflects A as A and Z as Z, it may well happen that B and even C sometimes occurs, but not always and not because the therapist was trying to contrive this. If the therapist reflects A and what follows is M, she then reflects M. She accommodates to the reality that is manifesting in all its dynamic glory before her. She does not try to manipulate or control or direct toward a preordained destination. I do not know the destination that the universe has in store for my client, but I can assist her travel and be a useful companion. It is, however, her journey, not mine.
The therapist’s efforts at contrivance always obstruct rather than assist the natural process. This is true even if the therapist goes to some lengths to get the client's agreement to whatever procedure is to take place. Clients are in a position of weakness and an assertive therapist presenting as an expert can commonly get their permission for almost anything. Such compliance does not aid the process of understanding, it merely, at best, enables us to eliminate a symptom.
Therapy is an accompaniment. I learn from her travelling and with my accompaniment she travels more freely and more boldly. As a therapist I am greatly privileged in being able to accompany so many travellers. However, this one is going to climb mountains, whereas that one is going down the river on a boat. If I think that the purpose of my job is to ensure that they all end up in Paris and go by car, I will fail them.
INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE SPIRIT
Now I want to extend this line of argument to spiritual practice. We can and do read many books about the subject. We read stories of this master and theories about that doctrine. We pick up a range of vocabulary, more or less useful. This is the outside view. I have met many people who can give long discourses on the nature of enlightenment or on absolute and relative truth, all given from the outside view position. These people may have no actual experience of what they are talking about. They have never inhabited the inside view. Indeed, the Buddhist world is full of them. Their students then adopt the same habit and talk endlessly and learnedly about the 12 factors of this or the 18 aspects of that. However, these people may actually not really know what they are talking about. They do not know it; they only know of it and about it.
The inside view is different. The person on the inside, encountering life, accommodates to life, encountering death, accommodates to death. They bow and rejoice. Encountering a master, they bloom with love and enthusiasm. Encountering a fool, they marvel and learn what human life is all about. The myriad dharmas come forth and confirm them at every step and as this is unceasing we cannot actually find them. They are not imposing themselves upon the situation, but are reflecting its ever changing pageant. Somebody observing such a person might conclude that that person is giving rise to the 12 factors of this or the 18 aspects of that, but this is not by contrivance, if it is happening at all.
The psychotherapy profession has, in recent years, been subjected to a takeover by people who purport to do therapy using the outside view. They get results. The results they get conform to the outside view protocols that they apply. Much of this is self-fulfilling prophecy. If I impose B on my client, C may result, but this is not really psychotherapy. It is manipulation. It does not free the human spirit. It mimics the taking of a pill. If you take an antidepressant chemical your mood may lighten temporarily. This consumption of chemicals, however, may not be good for your general health in the long run. The work of a real psychotherapist is different and more challenging. It is to enter into the inside view and discover the real meaning of what is happening.
TWO TYPES OF TEACHERS
The same is true in the world of spirituality. Thus we can distinguish between two different usages of the word teacher. A Buddhist teacher might occupy the outside view position. Perhaps he lectures in a university and tells people about Buddhism, its history, anthropology, doctrines, sociology and so on. That is one kind of teacher. There is another kind, the kind that we regard as the real thing. This person occupies the inside position. She depends upon her own experience and her living encounter with those whom she meets. She is spontaneous and free. One can spend any amount of time with the first type of teacher and be no closer to enlightenment whereas in time spent with the second kind of teacher one is already in its presence. No amount of research on the second kind will enable the first kind to reproduce it.
Thus this notion of inside view and outside view can have wide application and bearing it in mind can help us, sometimes, to avoid some pitfalls. Of course, even this notion of outside view inside view can be used in an outside manner or in an inside one. Experiment! As Buddha said, one must find out for oneself.