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The Exfoliator: Crash course therapy with The Intensive
November 6th 2013
Ahmed Zambarakji tries out a high speed six week therapy course, The Intensive - but does it work?
I often joke about the fact that, at one point in my life, I was having more therapy than hot dinners. So when a PR approached me with the opportunity to undergo The Intensive, an in-depth psychotherapeutic programme at a new one-stop-shop ‘healing centre’ in central London, I was relatively unfazed. It had been a while since I opened myself up to analysis of any kind and, for the first time in several years, I didn’t really feel the need to have an emotional dump in front of a professional. In that respect, The Intensive felt like a safe proposition.
What did get my goat, however, was the wording of the pitch. The six-week programme at Anamaya was sold as a ‘cool’ alternative to The Hoffman Process, the highly respected residential course that condenses a lifetime’s worth of therapy into eight solid days, nipping compulsive behaviours in the bud while relieving participants of stress, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. ‘Cool’ - the air of being unaffected by one’s circumstances – is, in my opinion, arguably the least appropriate word for such an in-depth self-enquiry. Moreover, marketing by association is a tired PR trick that never fails to prick up the ears of a hack keen on exposing imposters. So, with my curiosity piqued and my ‘stuff’ in check, I signed up for The Intensive.
On paper, the programme looked incredibly lightweight when compared to The Hoffman Process. Rather than lock you up for eight days to let every last childhood emotion defrost, The Intensive is made up of three manageable sessions per week, after which you are set free to roam the streets of Kensington (the nearest pub is five minutes away). “You can stay at home and at work… there is no need to abandon everything or to 'retreat' for this experience,” says founder Graham Doke. “It is not a shock therapy of one weekend, or one week… the six weeks allows time for contemplation of change.”
The Intensive includes 50 minutes of psychotherapy immediately followed by an hour of ‘neuro-meditation’ (essentially Mindfulness) and 90 minutes of bodywork later in the week. The idea is that your baggage gets exposed in therapy, you find stillness and awareness in meditation and, finally, you get to release it all during a rather deep - and sometimes incredibly painful – bodywork session. Ingeniously, these three components work in synergy to create a holistic release. According to the makers, The Intensive is essentially a process of ‘unsticking’. “We see a lot of people who find themselves extremely successful, but stuck in a role that does not bring them happiness and limits their ability to really enjoy the fruits of success,” says Doke.
Scheduling aside, the other glaring difference between The Intensive and The Hoffman Process, is that the former is strictly a one-to-one affair. In my personal experience, finding identification in the company of others who share your issues can trigger a quantum catharsis. The recognition that ‘you are not alone’ combined with the ongoing support of a group can turbo charge personal transition. But group therapy certainly isn’t for everyone and one suspects that Anamaya’s intimate approach will be attractive to cash-rich, time-poor professionals who would rather keep things confidential and personal.
In spite of my general suspicion, The Intensive’s three-pronged approach is what sets it apart from all the other programmes out there. Therapy can be hugely beneficial (provided you get the right therapist!) but if there’s one thing I learned about the limitations of psychoanalysis over the years, it’s that you can’t solve a problem created by the mind on the level of the mind (a realisation that ultimately led me to leave psychotherapy and explore other avenues of self-enquiry). In my personal opinion, therapy often explains why you end up with an arrow in your side but it doesn’t always get the damn thing out.
Bodywork, on the other hand, provides an experiential form of release that is often very difficult - though not impossible - to achieve with talking therapies. Indeed, both Freud and Jung saw the body as a symptomatic representative of the mind. In other words, the body is the unconscious, and working with it can provide more relief than a 50-minute session spent discussing how your sex life was ruined when your mother accidentally ran over the dog when you were six.
Indeed, the ‘deep release bodywork’ sessions at Anamaya were some of the best I’ve had. In stark contrast to the incredibly gentle physical therapies I’ve had over the years – craniosacral, somatic alignment, bioenergetics, Bowen, Feldenkrais method etc – the deep release techniques employed at Anamaya were positively brutal. Every last bit of emotional rigidity was wrestled out of my tissue to the point where I would feel the effects for days. At times, it felt as though I’d made it out of a boxing ring with just a shred of life left in me. Being someone who lives by the motto ‘go hard or go home’, this full-on and very tangible form of physical release work was incredibly appealing, not to mention effective.
The inclusion of the hour-long meditation sessions are not without reason either. The latest data on neuroplasticity shows that daily meditation can have a profound effect on the brain’s hardwiring, relieving practitioners of a particularly high stress threshold and allowing them to roll with life’s punches more easily. Decision-making, memory and emotional flexibility all vastly improve within weeks. Meditation is also a pretty useful skill if you’ve just spent an hour in therapy and your head is still spinning (precisely why these two sessions are back-to-back). My personal practice didn’t deepen during The Intensive (I have been meditating for several years), but I do wish I had that kind of one-to-one tuition when I started out.
It has now been over a month since I completed The Intensive. Compared to the other processes I’ve undergone over the years, The Intensive didn’t feel particularly intense for five out of the six weeks. On the very last week, however, the rug was pulled out from underneath me, provoking a momentary wobble, from which I’ve only just recovered. Unlike a paying client, I didn’t consciously stroll into Anamaya with a list of problems that needed sorting and yet I managed to leave with a distinct lack of personal power and more baggage than I could carry.
It’s not that the points that came up weren’t valid or didn’t require my attention – the ‘diagnosis’, for want of a better word, was spot on and I’d be foolish to think nothing was going to come up during the process. The Intensive was, as advertised, a fast track to the nub of a problem rather than the scenic route I’d strolled along for ten years. My only qualm is the amount of support that was available during the period and afterwards - it felt like I left on a cliffhanger. Indeed a residential or group setting might have been better suited to someone like me. Hoffman, for example, offers post process support to help participants get closure, as things are more than likely to come up in the weeks after a bout of emotional prodding.
Leaving a process like The Intensive feeling worse off than when I started is not a criticism. Emotional unrest is par for the course with any form therapy. In many ways, it’s part of the deal: you have to go through the fire rather than find a way to circumvent it. And, in a completely counterintuitive sort of way, that discomfort - those incapacitating ‘wobbles’ that occur in between sessions or even after subjecting yourself to a process like this - are testament to a method’s power.
Due to the highly personal nature of The Intensive, a limited number of places are available per year, each costing £1750.
Anamaya, 1 Adam & Eve Mews, Kensington, W8 6UG. Tel: 0203 011 0355