True Loving and The King's Speech

J. Talbut, True Loving and The King's Speech, One to One, no. Winter, p. 2, 2011.

I have often talked to people about a film that I think provides text book examples of interventions being used to good effect in all the Six Categories that John Heron describes in “Helping the Client”. That film was “Good Will Hunting” with Robin Williams playing the therapist.

Now I have seen another one - “The Kings Speech”. Lionel Logue, a speech therapist, is shown using plenty of supportive interventions, showing his respect, care and concern for The Duke of York, later King George VI. One of the ways he does this is by insisting on treating him as an equal and addressing him as “Bertie”. Another is by giving muted appreciations of Bertie in ways that he can hear.

Sometime (maybe most of the time) our interventions do not have the effect we intended. In one example Lionel says “you were sublime”. The effect of this was cathartic – but Bertie cannot handle it so he leaves. If Lionel's intention was to be supportive, he did not expect it to have a cathartic effect, then the intervention would be classed as supportive even though it acted like a confronting intervention.

There are many typical catalytic interventions, for example asking questions and encouraging Bertie to talk about his past. He gives information, for instance about left handedness and stuttering.

Lionel uses plenty of prescriptive interventions, exercises and activities that will help Bertie to learn to overcome his stuttering.

He confronts Bertie, raising his awareness about uncomfortable truths, sometimes going very near to the edge of what is warranted, of interventions that he has the right to use. Indeed at one point it seems he goes too far and Bertie dismisses him.

This is a good example of a therapist taking personal risks in order to help their client, something that I believe far too many practitioners fail to do when they practise in defensive ways, always sticking to the rules.

There are other examples of where the issue of warrant comes up, for instance Lionel is asked initially just to use mechanical methods to overcome the stutter and he obliges even though he knows that more will be needed. Eventually, as trust builds up, other approaches become warranted.

Several times Lionel uses cathartic interventions, generally eliciting anger though there are times when we see Bertie near to tears. There is a wonderful scene where Lionel holds a line of cathartic interventions, effectively using repetition, when he sits on the throne in Westminster Abbey. Lionel sees (and understands, unlike the Archbishop of Canterbury) that the intervention is having a useful effect so he keeps it up until he sees some change, some re-evaluation, take place in Bertie.

I cried several times during the film. What triggers my tears is when I experience, see or read about, genuine loving. That is what Lionel did, he loved Bertie. Not in any romantic or sexual way but in the real sense of to love: to love someone is to accept them as they are and to support them to be more of what they would, in enlightenment, choose to be. That is what Lionel did. It is little wonder that they remained lifelong friends.

We talk in co-counselling about grief being to do with the absence of love. I have learned and frequently have it confirmed by its effect on me and others that it is being loved in this real sense that counts. Accounts such as “The Kings Speech” (which draws on the actual notes of Lionel Logue), “Goodwill Hunting” or the story of Agnes and David in “David Copperfield” demonstrate this loving includes intervening in the other person's processes of thoughts and feelings or, as we say, using interventions. And these accounts are only illustrations of what can happen in real life.

Which is why I sometimes refer to intervention skills or helping skills training as training in practical loving.