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Posts Tagged ‘psychotherapy’

“There are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about them.”
Author Unknown

Being a proponent for strength based therapies for the past twenty years, I was extremely receptive when positive psychology was first introduced to the world. Like so many therapists, I’d experienced that terrible sense of hopelessness that periodically emerged during my early years as a therapist as I and my client become entrenched in the muck of pain and pathology. There in my light filled office, muscles tensed and heart heavy, gazing into the eyes of someone whom I had come to care deeply about, I all too often came perilously close to developing tunnel vision. I had witnessed the pain, listened compassionately, and carefully gathered up the shattered pieces of a broken story, while failing to truly see the
epic tale before me

I had come close enough to not only touch the wounds, but to hold them closely, and yet I had allowed precious and essential aspects of my client to move beyond my immediate reach – all of those experiences, lessons, wisdom, and unique strengths and gifts that my client possessed which absolutely guaranteed a successful (though never without risk or pain)passage.

When I learned to adapt my lens so that I could readily shift my focus back and forth between pain and possibility, pathology and promise, I not only improved my effectiveness and enhanced my vision – I discovered an inner voice. This voice has sustained me through many difficult, frightening and even heart breaking journeys with clients, and while this voice still expresses self-doubt and even despair, it is never without hope. And with hope in tact, we can go on. I can go on.

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As Frank Baird points out, we’re all born into a particular culture and point in history, and each of us makes sense of our lives by situating them in stories. We’re introduced to our cultural stories almost immediately. We’re provided with information from our families, our teachers, and most of all, at least in the case of Americans, we’re taught our culture’s dominant story by the media. This all pervasive story, maintains Baird, comes to dictate what we pay attention to, what we value, how we perceive ourselves and others, and even shapes our very experiences.

By the time American children graduate from high school, its been estimated that they’ve been exposed to a minimum of 360,000 advertisements and by the time we die, we Americans will have spent an entire year of our lives watching television commercials.

George Gerbner, professor of Communications and Dean Emeritus of the Annenberg school of Communications in Philadelphia, cautions that the people who tell the predominant stories are ultimately the ones who control how children perceive and even greet their world. Not so long ago, considering the vast history of human kind, we received most of our cultural story from wise elders. Do we truly fathom, I wonder, the significance of the fact that profit driven media has all too often become our primary storyteller? And when we consider what the message of this incredibly powerful storyteller has been, it’s not too difficult to appreciate how much soul our American story has lost, and how very much of our own individual spirits have been silenced by a story told hundreds of times every day in this country, a story whose title is undeniably, “buy me.”

Jung reflected once that his work as a healer didn’t truly begin until he recognized that the key to our personalities resides within our stories. Further, at the core of each human being there exists a unique and sacred story, and until we actively shape and live out this singular story, our lives will lack the direction and meaning we so long for. If we lose this story of ours, or fail to live it, ultimately the very purpose of our lives can slip away.

Every now and then I wonder just how much of my own story has been lost to the dominant story of my culture. I can identify so many aspects of my life where my own wisdom has been sacrificed to a story I was born into and to which I possessed few authorship rights.

And then, there’s the story I was first introduced to over twenty years ago when I began my training as a psychotherapist. A story that stressed that the ‘patient’ was sick or broken and needed to be fixed, rather than that the ‘client’ was in process and was responding to the world in which he or she lived. A story that stressed the wholeness of the person and celebrated the strength and the courage of someone earnestly attempting to cope with a story that required healing rather than a broken self in need of repair.

James Hillman in “We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy” declared that most psychotherapy models do something vicious to the people whom they are meant to serve – they internalize emotion. How? By so often turning the anger and pain brought on by the injustice, chaos, poverty, pollution, corruption, etc. which surrounds us into personal demons and inadequacies. For instance, offers Hillman, imagine that a client has arrived at his therapist’s office shaken and outraged because while driving a compact car, he was almost run off the road by a speeding truck. The outcome of this scenario, asserts Hillman, all too often leads to an exploration of how the truck reminds the client of being pushed around by his father, or that he’s always felt vulnerable and fragile, or perhaps his indignation stems from his resentment that he isn’t as powerful as ‘the other guy’. In this case, the therapist ends up converting the client’s feelings (in response to an external experience) into anxiety – an inner state. The therapist in Hillman’s example also transmutes the present into the past (the client’s feelings are really about unresolved issues from childhood) and transforms the clients outrage about the chaos, the craziness, and the dangers of the client’s outer world into rage and hostility. Thus, the client’s pain regarding an actual event has once again been turned inward. It’s become pathology (illness)

How often is a client’s anger, sadness and or grief about the condition of our climate, our economy, the corruption of our leaders, or the death of innocent children in war torn countries labeled as the result of a mental illness requiring medication?

I’ve thought a great deal about Hillman since learning of his recent death and have come to freshly appreciate his wisdom. He maintained that a significant amount of what therapist’s have been trained to view as individual pathology, is often an indication of the sickness that exists within our culture. In doing so, Hillman asserts, “We continue to locate all symptoms universally within the patient rather than also within the soul of the world. Maybe the system has to be brought into line with the symptoms so that the system no longer functions as a repression of the soul, forcing the soul to rebel in order to be noticed.”

When we begin to explore and to acknowledge the stories we prefer to honor and to live, we embrace an empowering and creative process. This evolving story is based upon our own experiences and values. We’re no longer simply ‘readers’, passively accepting the rules and explanations of others, we become authors too. As we begin to more actively author our own story, we begin to more fully claim it.

Thomas Berry wrote, “We are in trouble just now because we are in-between stories. The Old Story – the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it – sustained us for a long time. It shaped our emotional attitudes, provided us with life purpose, energized action, consecrated suffering, integrated knowledge, and guided education. We awoke in the morning and knew where we were. We could answer the questions of our children. But now it is no longer functioning properly, and we have not yet learned the New Story.”

We need to compose stories that inspire us and that serve to teach and to heal and in doing so we are better able to support our clients as they endeavor to create stories of their own.

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In “Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal,” Rachel Naomi Remen wrote of a workshop she attended that was facilitated by the late Carl Rogers, creator of Client Centered Therapy.” Rogers shared the following with Remen’s group:

“Before every session I take a moment to remember my humanity. There is no experience that this man has that I cannot share with him, no fear that I cannot understand, no suffering that I cannot care about, because I too am human. No matter how deep his wound, he does not need to be ashamed in front of me. I too am vulnerable. And because of this, I am enough. Whatever his story, he no longer needs to be alone with it. This is what will allow his healing to begin.”

Of all the wisdom that has been shared with me over my many years of training and experience as a therapist, Rogers words reflect the true essence of healing.

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CNN Health reported on a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine last week indicating that group cognitive behavioral therapy appears to “have the ability to protect people with heart disease from dying of their illness. On the other hand, almost a decade ago the largest study ever to examine whether antidepressants have the same long-term, lifesaving effects in people who have had a cardiac event came up negative…the group CBT intervention focused on the following five goals: education, self-monitoring, skills training, cognitive restructuring and spiritual development.”

University of California Television has made a highly informative lecture entitled, “Coping With Stress: Cognitive-Behavioral Stress Reduction” available that you can view via the youtube video above.

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Edward Tick in “War and the Soul” wrote, ” “In ancient Greek psyche means “soul.” Our modern scientific thinking equates psyche with mind, limiting the word to its psychological dimension alone and thus reducing its resonance and depth. Nonetheless, as every ancient and modern tradition avers, we are on a spiritual journey through this life and, if we are to travel well, it is important to understand the concept of psyche in this fuller sense of soul.”

I couldn’t agree more…

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