these days i am often called upon to talk about psychotherapy. i am very much of two minds about this. on the one hand it’s something that i feel very passionate about – this is what i do, after all! on the other hand, i find it difficult – therapy is such a private, intimate experience, and it is so multi-layered, and in many ways so intangible.
two people meet in this encounter that we call psychotherapy. two people in person. but since we bring our imagination into this encounter, we always bring more people with it. the reason why one seeks out therapy as a “client” is because one wants to deal with discomfort around the past or fears of the future. the past and the future exist only in our imagination, in the sense that they are not present here and now. they are present in our memories, thoughts, ideas.
so here we sit, two people in person, and a whole lot of other people in our imagination. in the beginning, when we talk, there is much tentativeness, and a tendency to talk to the whole audience. for example, the “therapist” talks to the client, the client’s mother, and the therapist’s supervisor. the client talks to her boss, her father, her own little child, and to the therapist. part of the task of the encounter is to bring it more and more into the present, where therapist and client talk directly with each other. naming the other people in the room might be helpful:
“wait a second – what i was just saying, maybe i said that more to your mother than to you. so let’s sort this out. this is what i might want to say to your mother, were she here in this room, and this is what i want to say to you.”
“okay, come to think of it, i’m talking this way because i know this is what would please my daughter. what i REALLY want to do, if i felt i didn’t need to please her, would be …. ”
slowly, naming and acknowledging the presence of others can soothe these ghosts enough so that they don’t have to accompany us all the time anymore. we can carve out a niche in the here and now and really talk one-on-one. really engage with each other. and then hopefully this niche can be widened, to bring more here-and-now into our lives, more engaging with what’s right in front of us, rather than wrestling with the past and future.
this takes enormous courage and trust. a willingness to be vulnerable, on both parts.
maybe that’s one of the reasons why it’s difficult to talk about psychotherapy. the vulnerability is frightening, and it takes fortitude to put this vulnerability out in the open, where strangers can see and hear us.
i pray for fortitude, then. for all of us.
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