This is really another aspect of the ‘boundary’ issue, and strong views were held on both sides of the argument about these notions. A refusal to allow the client to turn the attention to the personal life of the worker acquired for some an almost religious conviction, and was rigidly applied. On the other hand, this kind of fixed view earned the contempt of others who saw it as the worker’s evasion and defensiveness, covering their wish to hold on to the power.
It was an issue that was a battleground between what was seen as the prevailing old establishment culture of psychodynamic work, springing from an idea about Freudian psychoanalysis, and the ‘radical’ new world of client empowerment, rights and rebellion. For some reason, although part of me was excited by the radicalism of the rebellious sixties, I found the psychodynamic insights to be more intellectually and emotionally engaging. I had admired the intellectual sharpness of the radical left when I was at university – indeed all the brightest students at the time seemed to belong to bearded Marxist ideas. Whilst most lectures in the university were to a young student either dull or useful, a series of lectures on Marx that I attended were to me utterly gripping.
However, what gripped me in these lectures was similar in some ways to my reaction to psychodynamic work. Just as I later believed that the argument against psychodynamic approaches was based on a false premise, bought into by many advocates of psychodynamic work it must be said, so it seems to me that the opposition to Marxism was fighting the popular interpretation of Marxist politics, whereas for me the real insights of Marxism were in a sense psychological. In my Methodist upbringing, I had experienced an idea of religious faith as some kind of disembodied experience. For many in the church, the spiritual and the physical/ bodily were separate and at odds with each other. I can never remember believing in this and I recall my father articulating a different kind of faith in which belief was about behaviour as well as some intellectual or mental spirituality. I had a consistent conviction that the truth about people and religious truth had to be rooted in the facts of our physical bodies and the realities of how we behave to each other.
Marx was presented in these lectures in the same way. A political philosophy was useless unless it was evident in action. ‘Praxis’ was a key word to capture this. Naturally, we are attracted by beliefs and views that relate to our own problems and confusions, and as a rather sickly and physically weak child, I look back now and see how this distrust of intellectual disembodiment, and search for robust physical representation of beliefs was in part about my own sense of physical inadequacy. But I think it did also serve to help me engage with the adult world and the world of work. For Marx, the concept of work provided exactly the connotation of practical rootedness in action that for me countered the attraction of a retreat into the safe intellectual life that Oxford represented.
Against this background, although the Marxist left seemed to own the sharpest brains in the university and played at actions (or the idea of them), as protests were conducted and rallies attended, I could not believe in political action as other than intellectual games playing. Sometimes it seemed comic, as when I watched the Oxford Union exchange messages of support with the dockers of Southampton in 1968 or 9. It seemed as ludicrous as the evangelical rallies I had sometimes attended in my teens. Later this kind of ‘playing at radicalism’ attitude would be referred to, contemptuously and snobbishly, as the ‘polytechnic left’.