Thoughts provoked by David Holt’s Dramatic Model by Charles Hampton

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I was fortunate to work in supervision with the late David Holt, but sadly arrived after the drama workshops which he and others held at Hawkwood House in the early 1980′s. The introductory talks on these occasions were published privately in 1987 as Hawkwood Papers and provide a tantalising glimpse into what was, by all accounts, a memorable experience. The Dramatic Model, as employed at Hawkwood, was however often a feature of our supervision, for it was used to elucidate not only plays but therapy as well. David was content to allow the analogy between the stage and the consulting room to bear fruit without ever forcing it to a particular conclusion: I commend it to you in the same spirit.

David was a profound thinker. I write this not to place him apart: he would hate that, being always keen to communicate his ideas. Rather, he was attracted to deep structures for their power to inform living and liberate action. In the 1970′s, he was part of a course at Westminster Pastoral Foundation that taught ontology – the science of human being – and the Dramatic Model, first drawn in 1972, is very much a part of this preoccupation with how the psyche inhabits and experiences space and time via the body. I will quote from and comment upon the model as set out in Make Believe and Identity (1979) – chapter one of Hawkwood Papers.

The basic version (there were to be numerous extensions) consists of a quadrant, with the vertical axis having Author at its summit and Plot at its base: the horizontal axis has Actor at the left and Audience at the right. (You might like to sketch your own in order to play with what follows.) We are working with assumptions made familiar by the Narrative Study of Lives series (Josselson and Lieblich editors, Sage, 1993 to present) and the social construction of reality approach to psychology (Rom Harré, Kenneth Gergen and John Shotter) – namely that our lives are shaped by the stories we are told and tell ourselves, and that this fact places importance both on the content of the story and the manner of its telling.

In the position of the author, my life is what I make it. I feel responsible for what I do, and for what happens to me. I describe myself as the master (sic) of my fate. I claim that my life is my own, that it is up to me to make it as I will.

In the position of actor, my life is a doing rather than a making. I feel responsible for the how of my living rather than the what. There is a sense of freedom, but [it is] different to the author’s freedom to make as he wills… In the position of audience or spectator, my life is a reflecting, an observing, a judging. The bias of my interest is towards why’s …

My sense of responsibility, and of freedom, is critical, analytic, rather than existential, behavioural.

In the position of plot, my life is determined. I am a creature of circumstance. It is a case of just one thing after another. The eventfulness of living is a matrix within which I am embedded, at its best a tapestry of warp and woof, at its worst the stickiness of a fly paper … We can’t pick and choose, we can’t modify. We are stuck with it. All we can do is to get stuck into it. But that can be a beginning.

We are not ever wholly in one of these positions, though we do tend to get caught in one or other of them. Life is a trying business, and we are trying, many of us, to inhabit as much of this model as we can.Quote close

It is interesting to ask where various therapeutic approaches might locate themselves within the model. Gestalt practitioners, for example, could well think of themselves as improvising on stage alongside their clients, in Mike Leigh fashion without a script. A T.A. therapist would take the author to task and set about rewriting the plot. Both might think of the therapeutic session as a rehearsal. For the person-centred counsellor and the psychoanalytic therapist however, it is surely a performance: and where are they to be found – the former in the prompt corner, the latter a pensive critic somewhere in the stalls?

Between each position in the quadrant is a ‘line of force and meaning’.

The movement from conception to expression by which Author and Plot are both joined and separated is intentional. The author intends the plot to be. The plot is intended by the author.Quote close

Here the analogy poses the question, who is the author in real life? If we exclude a deus ex machina, three possibilities occur to me. The author as parent whose right to prescribe the life of their offspring is assumed. One thinks here of the task of individuation as a gradual outgrowing of parental injunctions (how profound they can be!). The enactment of this drama can be traced in the political sphere in the struggle between democracy and despotism. Alternatively, the author might be pictured as the self, devising a plot in which he/she subsequently becomes ensnared: for example the matrix of anxiety first engendered and then suffered by a split personality. Or thirdly, one can think of authorship as arising out of the process that one is engaged in: the therapeutic task, like the creative task, sometimes seems to dictate what happens next.

The plot is intended by the author. But that intention is expressed in a text. If we want to understand the author’s intention, we must study his text.Quote close

It is a comforting axiom of psychotherapy that a text exists somewhere – that pathogenic factors leave their traces and the story can be reconstructed. However, the text is often problematic – David was deeply interested in the debate about False Memory Syndrome and sought out the founder of the British Association. Often too, he saw the text becoming indistinguishable from its con-text – a story, once pursued, opening up into history (he had been a student at Oxford of R.G.Collingwood), its authors too many and various for anything more than conjecture as to causes to be attempted. As a result, he was exercised by what he felt to be a too narrow focus upon parental introjects in some psychoanalytic approaches, believing that reducing everything to the transference made an unreal omission of the context. A late arrival at a session had potentially as much to reveal to him about the madness of our love affair with motor cars as it did about unconscious defences.

Now the horizontal … The exchange between actor and audience, that which passes between them, is reflective. In trying to inhabit this model, that reflection is in words like conscious and con-science.Quote close

In hyphenating these words he is, I believe, wishing to emphasize that thinking, feeling and knowing is done together in the encounter. Just as an actor’s performance depends to some extent upon the engagement or otherwise of the audience’s response, so an emphasis upon the quality of the therapeutic relationship – its empathy, its attunement, its congruence – is revealed by recent research to be crucial to outcome.

But there is also an activity of a more original kind going on across here.. .1 call this interpretation … Actors interpret their parts. Conductors interpret musical scores. But also, judges interpret law, and in some countries which are perhaps freer than others, they make this interpretation with the assistance of a jury.Quote close

What does the analogy posed between stage, concert platform or law court and therapy have to say here? An interpretation makes manifest some new aspect of the latent meaning in each of these texts. A good interpreter is a servant of the text: the inevitable intrusion of the meta-text supplied by his/her own ego-needs has to be tolerated and circumscribed. In therapy however, interpretation often accompanies the emergence of a text. It can be important to withdraw an interpretation if it turns out to have been going in the wrong direction.

It is altogether easier if the text is supposed to be well known because the meta-text is then obvious and often scandalous. The therapist’s memory of past sessions may be tested by an unforgiving patient. Sometimes however, a fresh interpretation is accepted as fashioning the text anew. We talk of Olivier’s Hamlet or Brendel’s Beethoven. The fierce theoretical battles within the history of psychoanalysis are about these moments of re-fashioning. The recognition of transitional objects for example requires a particular framework of understanding which some people inhabit and others don’t. An interpretation establishes its own fashion and adherents and passes by way of these into the larger culture. We should not be surprised to note that a dream may conform nowadays to Freudian, Jungian or Kleinian notions of imagery.

But if we turn to the third analogy, between therapy and the law, we find, in interpretation by a jury of one’s peers, a much larger claim and one David was fond of championing. Psychotherapy trainings, he believed, must learn to grow beyond their origins and listen to what patients are telling them: and not just patients, but former patients who have gone on doing work on themselves, and the parents, partners, children and friends of patients who have watched them grow or fail to grow. We have arrived, he believed, at a stage in the development of our profession, where the patient may well know a lot about Freud, Jung and Klein. They are consequently able to be critical of practice: and the practice itself must adjust in cognisance of irony and the possibilities of reciprocity. (I’m thinking of Robert Hobson’s Conversation approach to psychotherapy, in Forms of Feeling (Tavistock publications 1985.) The result is an opening up of the plot of psychotherapy to wide-ranging referentiality. We see this in the extension of its concerns to feminism (Susie Orbach), the sociology of religion (Julia Kristeva), politics (Andrew Samuels) or spirituality (Agneta Schreurs).

There is of course something uncomfortable about a democratic approach to doing therapy. A market-led philosophy such as we already have in the NHS, can subjugate clinical considerations to financial ones. A patient may not be right in their self-diagnosis and technical language often proves a blunt instrument. But the freedom of both protagonists in a therapy to move around the Dramatic Model, which David constantly encouraged in supervision, has seen my work on occasion move out of a stuck phase to find a renewal of intention and enrichment of text. He wrote later (in Psyche and its operating theatres 1992) of rescuing ‘behaviour’ from the behaviourists, and it was the therapist’s behaviour he had in mind as much as the patient’s.

Behaviour is not only about adapting to an environment. It makes scenes, and in doing so constitutes environment. Therapy in the service of behaviour is not only concerned with the healing of illness. It is also about drawing out (educating) our investment in our own scene-setting, so that characters can go critically in search of authors.Quote close

It was this thinking that led to his deep commitment to the quality of functioning of our society. His contribution will be missed but not, I hope, mislaid.

My life is not this steeply sloping hour,
in which you see me hurrying.
Much stands behind me; I stand before it like a tree;
I am only one of my many mouths,
and at that, the one that will be still the soonest.
I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because Death’s note wants to climb over —
but in the dark interval, reconciled,
they stay there trembling.
And the song goes on, beautiful.Quote close

From Das Stundenbuch, Rainer Maria Rilke translated by Robert Bly
In Selected Poems, Harper & Row, New York 1981