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

Friday, 25 May 2012

Psycho-Physical Attitude and ‘The Tyranny of The Should’s’

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Lessons this week reminded me how useful it can be to contrast how we use ourselves when we approach something from the perspective of ‘wanting’ to do it, rather than believing that we ‘should’ do it. Both ‘wanting’ and feeling that we ‘should’ do something are, from a psycho-physical perspective, attitudes within which certain uses of the self are embodied.

With the former if directly expressed we will often come up into an attitude where we are focussed, freer, lengthening in stature, with our breathing released – we are properly speaking more relaxed; we are using ourselves well. In the latter, we respond to feeling that we ‘should’ do something by tightening around our faces, pulling forward, pulling down, making our movements jerky, as we force ourselves into an action, where our free choice is either denied or hidden.

Whether we choose to do something because we want to or because we feel we should in different contexts, depends on habits that can reach back into early childhood.  Habits that we evolve in relation to how our will and spontaneity were construed by our parents and the culture we found ourselves in.

Three caveats here, the first is that learning to recognise what we want, we are not always at first skilful at listening to ourselves, we too often carry an external threat with us, which we tighten ourselves against. Secondly, that once we can freely express what we want, it does not follow that we can freely move into carrying it out, we can try and then tighten ourselves. The freedom of thought and action, as well as the freedom in thought in action that Alexander advocates comes from sustaining inhibition through out the entire cycle of expression and action. Thirdly, to recognise what you want, to be able to express it, does not necessarily make for selfishness, egotism and the dominance of individual wishes and preferences. Rather, it allows for recognition of oneself, one’s desires, wishes, wants and the irreducibility of one’s freedom to choose for oneself and not to be slave to what psycho-analyst Karen Horney termed the ‘tyranny of the should’s.’

In developing Conscious Control of one’s own individual psycho-physical attitude here, it is worth remembering that Alexander was explicit in saying that it was not all about thinking about your head and neck, important as that is. What is important is thinking about why you are doing it, even the most unpleasant, unwished for tasks can be transformed by the change in experience that comes from recognising one’s intentionality in choosing to pursue them. A favourite formulation of this comes from Ouspensky via Maurice Nichol. This says that we have a right not to be negative and if you apply inhibition to this in its fullest and most radical sense you will soon come up!

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.