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

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Use – a scientific concept

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A working understanding of ‘use’ is something anybody with an interest in Alexander Technique has to acquire. A ‘working understanding’ involves practice and ability to employ oneself purposefully, and skilfully in any activity. Indeed ‘practice,’ ‘employment,’ ‘skill,’ ‘purpose,’ as well as ‘habit’ provide the etymological roots for ‘use,’ which is the founding abstraction of Alexander’s work.

That ‘use’ is foundational for Alexander work should be clear to any one, that it is an abstraction is sometimes missed, with ‘use’ being taken as something concrete. Where use is taken concretely it becomes common to accuse people with no knowledge of Alexander’s work of misusing themselves. This I think is a mistake on a number of levels, foremost of which is that the practical problem for many people is that they have no concept of using themselves at all. ‘Use’ is how Alexander began to analyse his own actions and how he analysed the actions of his pupils. ‘Use’ is therefore the unit of analysis of Alexander work. To develop a working concept of use, a person has to abstract from his or her own experience - something practical that works.

Doing so they have to abstract the ‘similarity of the difference,’ to borrow a phrase from David Bohm, that the use of themselves can actually make to their lives and the difficulties that they are experiencing. In doing this, ‘use’ comes to explain what has happened and what is happening.

‘Use’ therefore elucidates the subject matter of Alexander’s work, as well as providing the explanatory power and the unit of analysis. These three elements together, are what the great Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, saw as being necessary for the methodological grounding of a scientific discipline. Which is how John Dewey characterised Alexander’s work. It is a scientific discipline for each person that seeks to learn it, like Alexander, to borrow a phrase, this time from Kelly who was inspired by Dewey they are ‘personal scientists.’

To view people as ‘personal scientists’ is to recognise the importance of intentionality, of wishing and willing – something Walter Carrington in his published talks stressed as being necessary for success in Alexander work.

To talk about being a ‘personal scientist’ here is to follow Dewey in ‘Human Nature and Conduct’ in saying that while we rely on habit we must also be able to use our intelligence to review habits and change behaviour as necessary.

Which is very much how Alexander came to see things. The difference between Dewey and Alexander being, as the former, I think would have admitted, is that the Alexander Technique provides the practical way of changing things, turning them around.

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.