What you get from working with me
This page tells you about the type of service and experience that I offer to my clients. It highlights the importance of my research involvement, which constitutes the backbone of my practice.
Two styles of therapy tend to dominate in practice. A first style of therapy involves listening to clients in silence, with sparse interactions or none at all. This is done in a climate of warmth and empathy or, alternatively, in an atmosphere of detachment and relative coldness, the latter being more often met with therapists who use a psychodynamic approach. This first style of therapy where the therapist is largely passive is probably the most common. It is often used by therapists whose theoretical stance stipulates that the therapist’s silence and passivity actually stimulates the client’s ability to engage in a therapeutic process. This process may involve self-healing, the client being trusted to find their own way towards a resolution of their issues (person-centred approach), or engaging in the more circumvoluted process which psychodynamic therapists call “transference”. The "passive" style of therapy is also used by therapists who recognise limitations in their interpretive abilities and feel more comfortable and useful in the position of listener.
Listening is an important aspect of my work with clients. However, in order to be effective, therapy often requires unveiling the underlying issues (of which clients are usually unaware) which lie beneath the presenting issues (of which clients are aware). The second style of therapy, which is more investigative, is the one I practise. This time, in addition to being talkative and offering verbal demonstrations of empathy and support, the therapist engages in analytical and interpretative work with the aim to support the client's efforts to make sense of their issues as well as the thoughts and feelings which surround them. The smooth passage from the presenting issues to the underlying issues requires skill. It also requires the backup of an appropriate theory. This is why, in practice, the interpretative work is frequently led by the therapist and reflects their theoretical orientation.
However, we need to distinguish here between two types of relationship between therapist and theory. The therapist's theoretical orientation may either rest on passive learning of existing (and sometimes old) theories or on a personal involvement in the production of new knowledge and understanding. Below I review these two models and highlight the advantages and superiority of the second, which is the one I follow.
Mainstream model: the practitioner learns and applies pre-existing theories
Therefore, the trainee is unable to develop an in-depth and critical understanding of the theories learned, and is deprived of means of assessing the actual value of these theories and identifying those which are the most empirically grounded and practically efficient. In this context, the adoption of a particular theory or set of theories is left to personal preference and marketing strategy, and the actual use of the chosen theories is condemned to be somewhat artificial. A good illustration of this is the widespread inability to provide an in-depth description of the theory(ies) that one is using. Another example is the now fashionable trend which entails introducing oneself as an “integrative therapist" and claiming multiple theoretical allegiances in support of a so-called bid to make use of all powers available. This claim ignores the fact that existing theoretical approaches are often contradictory and mutually exclusive, and that this is how they have developed historically and in the mind of their initiators.
But there is more, and more fundamental, namely the fact that psychotherapeutic theories were never meant to be simply learned and applied, as I explain below.
Alternative model: the practitioner updates and builds theories
As far as the results of research are concerned, the originators of psychotherapeutic theories rarely intend their views to become crystallised and adopted as canons. They see their reflections or theoretical formulations as mere expressions of their current level of knowledge and understanding, therefore as temporary constructs which are waiting to be improved or superseded.
In these conditions, it should be obvious that the best model for psychotherapeutic training and practice is one which places research and personal development at the heart of everything. This model stands in sharp contrast with the prevailing model, which involves learning and applying ready-made and frozen in time theories with no research involvement and, therefore, no integration of research and personal development.
The advantages of being a practitioner-researcher
Being a practitioner-researcher means that
my thinking primarily rests on facts instead of learned ideas, as research entails gathering, observing and analysing empirical data, namely facts;
my thinking is critical, as I am able to assess the relevance and validity of the concepts which constitute the building blocks of theory;
I am able to make use of all resources available without limiting myself to the small world of psychotherapeutic theory. My research spans over all relevant disciplines, including psychology, neurosciences, social sciences and philosophy;
my work of theorisation gets a chance to be co-extensive with the explorative work which takes place in therapy. There is a direct correlation between the two, one feeding the other (no personal data are used in my research, as my focus is on human psychological structures, not on biographical details);
instead of the old, sketchy and imperfect theories of my distinguished predecessors (the last major theoretical contributions are between 40 and 70 years old), I can rely on my more advanced and up to date theoretical contributions to psychological enquiry.
Benefits for clients
My everyday involvement in research activities has many implications for the therapeutic process that I make available.
Firstly, the structure of human experience, starting with that of the client, remains at all times the primary point of reference in my reflections. As a result, my interventions in therapy remain grounded, relevant, creative, open to questioning and the formulation of hypotheses, and at all times subject to critical thinking.
Fifthly, my leadership style is allowed to be collaborative. My ways of working entail involving clients in the process of exploration. Strictly speaking, they become co-leaders in the therapeutic process. This co-leadership allows clients to own the emerging meaning and work with it independently. With time, they have a chance to become their own therapists and integrate the notion of self-care.
My research themes
The topics on which I have concentrated my efforts since 1990 cover the fundamental aspects of an individual’s life that a psychotherapist needs to know about, namely:
The structure of the human self and the corresponding psychological structures and personality traits
The various forms and stages of human development, from birth to death
The structure of the relationship between self and world, and its development (relationship with the body, socialisation)
The human worlds in which the individual has to live, including western individualism and traditional holism
The place of the spiritual dimension within human life and the structure of reality
The therapeutic process in psychotherapy
Principles on which my research is based
The quality of my research rests on a commitment to certain principles. I will mention three of them here.
A grounded approach to theory making
I treat empirical work, therefore the use of empirical data, rather than existing theories, as the foundation of my knowledge and understanding. Moreover, I find it extremely important to allow personal experience to inform the research process, as this allows personal development and the testimonials of others to be included.
Integration of research and personal development
I believe that the study of the human self, of human development and of our relationship with the world in which we live cannot rest on mere intellectual pursuits. A process of self-discovery through experience is required in order to gain access to the most fundamental aspects of human nature and psychological life.
A holistic view of the human being
Another specificity of my approach is that it encompasses the psychological, sociological, historical and spiritual aspects of human selfhood and the human condition. If you take a look at the page About me, you will see that I have qualifications in many areas. This was to counteract the limitations of excessive specialisation which unfortunately tends to be the norm in modern sciences, including in psychotherapy.
Where do I fit?
To get a taste of my writing, you can refer to my work on the process of socialisation which marked an important step in the development of my research between 2000 and 2010.
• Van de Walle, G. (2011). ‘Becoming familiar with a world’: A relational view of socialization. International
Review of Sociology, 21 (2), 315–333.
• Van de Walle, G. (2008). Durkheim and socialization. Durkheimian Studies, 14 (1), 35–58.
My clients frequently ask me why it is so difficult to find a good counsellor or psychotherapist. The answer is complex. However, part of the answer lies in the fact that the mainstream approach to professional training in counselling and psychotherapy presents some major issues. One issue, in particular, concerns the fact that this training largely rests on the passive learning of existing theories and is completely divorced from the process of research and theory building. Reliance on this type of learning presents various shortcomings. To start with, a systematic and critical reference to both a strong empirical basis and to an understanding and control of the process of building theories is usually missing.
Within the landscape of psychotherapeutic theory, my greatest affinity is with the humanistic tradition which homes the person-centred, transpersonal and existential approaches. However, my approach is not reducible to any of these traditions. The theoretical work which has emerged as a result of my lifelong commitment to research and personal development is vast and complex, it is also idiosyncratic. This is why the best platform to allow the public, including my clients, to get to know this work is the book that I am currently writing, which contains my life work and which I hope to be publishing in the near future.
Secondly, the needs of the client are more easily identified and met, new insights are allowed to emerge and a shared understanding develops between me and the client.
Thirdly, the therapy never gets trapped into intellectual discussions which loose touch with reality. The lived aspect of therapy is at all times preserved, with intuition, feelings and emotions playing an important role.
Fourthly, my everyday involvement in research means that I am able to monitor on a daily basis the value of the therapeutic work that I offer to clients.
Generally, the theoreticians of psychotherapy are, or have been, therapists themselves. Their theories have emerged in relation to the investigative nature of psychotherapeutic work. That is to say that research and the ensuing production of theory constitute an aspect of their work as therapists, and a crucial one indeed, the two being fully integrated. Research is also an integral part of these practitioners-theoreticians’ personal and professional development. One implication of this is that the focus is not merely on the results of research but also on the process of research itself. In psychotherapy, the activity of research is (or should be) an experiential venture as much as an intellectual process, and is meant to be transformative on top of generating knowledge and understanding.