Dr Judith Murray
Published in The Neuropsychotherapist Issue #1
The Neuropsychotherapist: Tell us how you came to be a registered nurse.
Judith Murray: Well, nursing is actually my third career. I started as a high school maths and history teacher for five years. I did have a psychology degree behind me before teaching and had a view to going back to psychology at some time. The turning point for me was after losing three babies; it was then I decided to go back to psychology. I started working with bereaved parents and got involved in a number of organisations and hospitals. After finishing my psychology, and continuing to work with the bereaved, I did my Ph.D. looking at bereavement. I’ve been working in this area of loss and grief ever since and have been approaching loss as a universal concept. This has taken me all over the state of Queensland doing workshops and talking about loss and grief. This work involved me in areas such as chronic illness, palliative care, children—and I ended up working with a lot of nurses. I knew I needed to keep in touch with the community and community work, which brought me to a place where I decided I needed to do something beyond academia. And so I started my nursing degree. The counselling course I had been putting together at the university was becoming settled, and I felt it was a good time to get into nursing and keep that “hands on” dimension.
I’ve always had that strong personal need to be with people and to connect with people, and this is what nursing gives me. The fabulous thing about nursing is that we have “touch” and we have “trust”. You know, we are in this place where patients let us into their world; there is an intimacy and trust that builds simply because we are there, doing the things nurses need to do, caring in the most vulnerable situations. Patients just trust nurses, and in oncology, where I work, we are there from the very first diagnosis to the laying out of the bodies. So we see people living with that initial fear, the uncertainty, and going through the terrible ravages that chemotherapy can do to a person. In this place I see loss everywhere, from the first loss of a clump of hair from chemo, to crying with them as we shave their head because they are losing their hair. You know, this is the place, and these are the moments, where I can connect with people and see the neurobiology, the limbic resonance, at work.
NPT: What about your work at The University of Queensland?
JM: In 2003 I was asked to be the Program Director of a new Master of Counselling course here at the University of Queensland. So Brian Sullivan and I started looking at how to formulate this course and what we were going to teach. We did a survey of all the evidence and we could not see that any one modality was better than any other for counselling, so we looked at an integrative approach. The following year we listened to Daniel Siegel and Louis Cozolino talk about their integrative philosophy and it struck a chord. I knew the integrative approach worked in the area of loss and grief, and we knew it would work more broadly in a counselling course. The neuropsychotherapy foundation made it easy for us to then integrate differing theory and practice into an integrative perspective. So we have been running with a neuropsychotherapy foundation since 2004.
NPT: How does neurobiology help the psychotherapist in practice?
JM: What I love about neuropsychotherapy is that it validates the place of safety. Creating a “safe place”, I believe, is the key to psychotherapy, and that’s what we are seeing in the biology. You can look at some of the great theorists of the past like Rogers and see the gentleness in approach, creating a safe place for the client, and setting up the right conditions for effective neurologic change. A big part of my work is with nurses, teachers, and other caregivers, building their confidence by showing them what is happening on a neurobiological level and demystifying what is going on in the people they are caring for. This often dismisses fears they may have had, and also validates a lot of what they do intuitively as caregivers. Understanding what is going on at a neural and chemical level, especially concerning the need for safety and the therapeutic relationship, is a powerful foundation from which to practise psychotherapy.