Anger of a Therapist

Simon Auster, Psychiatrist, Virginia, USA

George Lyward was a lonely man. To be sure, like the rest of us, much that he did perpetuated that state. But as is true with so many talented charismatic individuals his admirers mistaking the myths for the man, looked no further than the truly inspiring surface of the teacher and therapist and never recognized the solitary, fearful soul within. The tragedy of his life lies in that. Even the most ardent of his admirers, in their thinking about education and therapy, failed to recognize that, despite his talents, he was as vulnerable a human being as the next man. They were prone to set him and his work apart as freak aberrations and irrelevant to the needs of a world populated by those less talented than he. One of the recurrent themes of the extended conversations that characterized our infrequent visits was his despair over the widespread failure of educationists to recognize that whatever his unique talent, his work was ultimately based on a conceptual framework developed out of experience, which although running counter to much of the thinking in the field, could be as readily taught.

He set a standard: There was to be no masquerading at Finchden. As a friend who visited there once with me expressed it, “You had better know who you are at Finchden because you are up front all the time”. While the boys had a knack for demolishing any pretentions that a visitor (or anyone else, I’d imagine) might attempt to foist on to them, their model was a master at challenging his guests to be themselves, to respond from their ‘centres’. When I called Lyward to arrange my first visit there, after the logistics had been worked out, he put me on notice about what I might expect, saying, “You’re a psychiatrist, eh? The boys will have fun with you.” He followed this up when I first arrived (after the boy assigned the task of taking me in to breakfast had backed off at the last moment), by meeting me in his bedroom as he finished dressing and asking what I thought about the young man who had driven me over from Ashford. Hardly a context that allowed for refuge in social conventions or personal conceits. And yet he was no less possessed of such conceits than any other.

To challenge the masks anyone wears, however, has never been sufficient to persuade him to lay it down. What Lyward recognized, and therein lies his major contribution, was that the task of the therapist and teacher is to engage the other in a manner such that he need no mask and to enable the other to build on these successful engagements in such a way that the need for masks diminishes and the person can respond fully from his ‘center’. To do this the therapist must have the knowledge and skill to seek out and to create situations where honest engagement is possible for the person who has experienced human relationships as a mosaic of masquerades, and the therapist must be open to the manifestations of such directness when it occurs. Lyward’s exceptional talents lay in this area, in the ability to build on a passing comment about the inadequate heat on the train from London, a spontaneous and lively discussion between six very troubled boys and himself on the problems of the regulation of public utilities. Or in a different vein, in recognition of the importance of the boys themselves; in fulfilling the therapeutic function of the Finchden community, in having several of the more senior boys evaluate an applicant for Finchden; their straightforward report, given in the presence of the applicant’s parents and Probation Officer, demonstrated clearsightedness and an understanding of the relevant issues, a result that could only have come about from an open and direct approach to the assignment. Lyward’s appreciation of the therapeutic potential of the community of boys long preceded the post-War development of the therapeutic community concept.

Friendship with Lyward was not achieved easily; his mistrust of the approaches of others beyond the distance of respectful admiration for his work was phenomenal. On several occasions when we discussed the nature of friendship he quoted to me an observation made by a colleague and contemporary. “You turn your patients into friends and your friends into patients. “Perhaps this was intended as a warning. More likely it was a plea. The paradox of Lyward’s life was in his success in inculcating strength and self-trust in others, while remaining paralyzed by his own mistrust – of himself, as well as of others. Dominated by a fear rooted in an insecurity surviving from his childhood, he remained un-free openly to ask of others for himself, to respond to the dictates of his own ‘center’ as it were, however arbitrary it may have seemed he could not feel secure in such a request without the kind of rational justification that requires a superimposed structure and which is not to be found in the spontaneity of intimate relationships. This resulted in a chameleon-like quality to many of his relationships, as it impelled him to present himself in a manner most likely to obtain the support and approval of the person he was with, regardless of how he may have felt at that moment. The “turning of friends into patients”, was another consequence of this insecurity, creating a relationship that has the structure of reciprocal obligations he so badly needed. Being unable to ask for himself, he feared the requests of others, whether explicitly or implicitly stated; he knew that he was unable not to respond, and because of his sensitivity and insightfulness, those who met him, even on brief acquaintance, would often unburden themselves to him. The ‘converts’ were hardly unwilling victims. Aware of his need to protect himself from being caught up in the psychological maelstrom that an uncontrolled response to such requests would entail, he would jokingly refer to Finchden as “The sheltered community I have built for myself”, where his role protected him from those outside pressures with which he was unable to cope, yet provided him with a structure within which he was free to engage in a manner optimally useful to the boys, even to, “turning patients into friends.”

Genuine friendship, in the spirit of shared intimacies and open spontaneous exchange was possible, nevertheless, if slow in developing. As long as care was taken to refrain from using the relationship to bootleg therapy more honestly – and more appropriately – obtained elsewhere, as long as there were no attempts at masquerading, the relationship remained strong and could grow. As we spent more time together, the inevitable misunderstandings occurred. On one occasion these resulted in an angry shouting match, which left us both equally shaken and astonished by its intensity, yet immensely pleased that our friendship could survive even this. As we talked about it afterwards, he remarked, “Simon, it is the fear of my anger that keeps Finchden going.”

Lyward often spoke of the importance of anger for demonstrating commitment and caring to boys who could recognize no other expression of involvement and concern. Here, however, he was referring to a different phenomenon, a more diffuse and devastating fury that he himself experienced as terrifying, even while recognizing it as a significant elemental force at Finchden. Perhaps because it was so awesome even to him, perhaps because its effectiveness was in its remaining potential rather than reaching expression (its importance consequently not readily perceived), perhaps because the anger of the therapist is still a taboo topic, and most of all, perhaps because a close look might have hinted at an embarrassing potential for tyrannizing the entire Finchden community, we never fully explored the role of this energy through the fear it provoked in those on whom it was focused, in buttressing the behavioural limits set for the community by Lyward, the staff and the boys.

George Lyward was an exceptional man, fully deserving the honour and respect he received. He possessed that rare combination of qualities: extraordinary sensitivity and insight, an ability to translate these gifts into effective action, and the capacity to formulate the entire process in a way that enabled him to teach it to those who would listen. He was a valued friend with whom to engage, no holds barred. And he was a lonely human being.

Simon Auster, M.D. 1964-73: Director, Fairfax-Falls Church Mental Health Center, Falls Church, Virginia: 1969-70: Ceramics study. Kyoto, Japan: 1966-68 Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry. The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, D.C.