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The Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre has been offering Alexander lessons and workshops since 1994.

Friday, 08 June 2012

Why We Need A Teacher

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Alexander believed anyone could do what he did in working things out for himself; he also believed that lessons would reduce the time needed to do so. I am far from certain about the former statement, while being pretty sure of the latter. The problems in working it out for oneself are many, even if you have the excellent guide that is given by Alexander in chapter one of his third book ‘The Use of The Self.’

This account of how he worked things out is undoubtedly idealised, but in his idealisation Alexander lays out a pretty good framework for learning what he knew.

Within that account the chief difficulty becomes apparent, namely the need to do something unfamiliar, not to rely on habit, not to rely on feeling, to allow something different to happen. All too often at the last second, we revert to the familiar, go with the habit, make our usual choice, missing the new road that is in front of us.

Alexander was well aware of this, as the most recent blog by Robert Rickover makes clear. Alexander’s practical experience of teaching both himself and others emphasised this tendency to revert, to rely on habit, to rely on old conceptions of how to go about things, even simple things like sitting and walking.

In talking of conceptions here, it is worth remembering a belief of Alexander’s, that John Dewey picked up on, namely that experience precedes conception. There are some very deep waters we could get into here about conception and what is going on in general, but from a practical point of view Alexander is right. Only when you have experience can you really begin to know, to have concepts in terms of ‘knowing how,’ which is very different from ‘knowing that.’

Getting the experiences is where a teacher comes in, where the teacher can help you gain in minutes experiences that it took Alexander months to work through. Those first experiences of difference in how you can move, how you might use yourself, are what allow you to begin to be aware of what you currently do, how you currently work, what you might stop, what might be right, what might be wrong in terms of how we function.

We too often rely on the pre-verbal solutions of our childhood, modified haphazardly or sometimes modified consciously and badly, as our way forward. A teacher can help us correct these by making plain the implications of our patterns of use, our habits, not just verbally but through experience and words, putting the two together so we can learn the concepts for ourselves. As we do so, we develop Conscious Control for ourselves; we can use ourselves intentionally.

Without a teacher we are liable to lose ourselves, always returning to old habits, relying on old feelings of right, that are wrong; tying ourselves in knots, missing the way forward, repeating old mistakes, following the old ways, that have led us into impasse, always, and forever will do so, unless, we first learn to stop, call a halt. With that a teacher can help, before pointing the way to a new use, new habits that can free us towards a better and more constructive use of ourselves.

Richard Casebow

Back in the mid-1980s, I started to suffer from severe sciatica that often made walking and working difficult. At the time, I was training in London to become a Chartered Accountant and I left, as I was spending increasing amounts of time off waiting for the pain to subside. Around this time, I also became depressed, as my prospects seemed to darken with little hope of a normal life. In seeking help I found my way both to a psychotherapist and then to an Alexander Technique teacher, both of which helped enormously. The therapy with forming a life plan and understanding myself, encouraged me to dream of the life I have now. The Alexander Technique gave me the practical tool to help realise it and to allow me to rehabilitate myself to lead a full normal life.

The link between Alexander Technique, Psychotherapy and the art of living intelligently became something that has fascinated me ever since and is something I have continued to explore myself and with pupils and clients since. This blog is my attempt to elucidate the links, as well as to talk about Alexander Technique pure and simple and the benefits of therapy.

I founded the Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre in 1994, Counselling Conversations came later after I became a practising therapist in 2003. Professionally I act as the Treasurer of the Personal Construct Psychology Association and sit on the board of the UKCP’s house magazine The Psychotherapist. When I am not to be found working, there is nothing better I like to be doing than spending time on a Scottish hillside, exploring the arts or just spending time with friends and family, including the family cat.