Tamara De Lempicka – Head of a Woman [c.1967] Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
“In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?”
Carl R. Rogers
Rogers’ quotation is meaningful and important, in that it reflects and documents a move forward from the old ‘treatment’ model of psychotherapy into a more relationship-based, emotional experience for the patient.
‘Treating, curing and changing’ are words that express something that is done to another person, without the other person being actively involved. It is a kind of imposition, a pouring into, rather than a drawing-out.
Rogers’ therapeutic relationship involves a professional and firmly boundaried kind of love, where the therapist helps the other towards ‘personal growth’ through empathy, acceptance and congruence.
“Therapy should not be theory-driven, but relationship-driven.”
We tend to repeat past ways of being, which, when unconsciously replayed in the present, may be destructive in our lives and relationships.
That is why we need the therapy relationship to be a principal agent of change, so that we can trace the areas of difficulty, which will inevitably be re-enacted in the therapy room.
Inner change is not easy, especially considering that our ways of behaving might have been there for a lifetime. Perhaps our defences will have become a little rigid, unyielding.
It can be scary to objectively face the parts of ourselves that we might not want to acknowledge – our ‘shadow side.‘
“A person was like a city. You couldn’t let a few less desirable parts put you off the whole. There may be bits you don’t like, a few dodgy side streets and suburbs, but the good stuff makes it worthwhile.”
That is where strength of mind is needed, holding on to our ‘good’ aspects, whilst having the courage to face our ‘inner demons.’
We all have them, those parts of ourselves that we do not like. However, the ‘monstrous’, raging, nasty parts of all of us will be worse if left unacknowledged and unchecked.
Unless we ‘make friends’ with our demons and gain knowledge of and mastery over them, they can become out of control.
In order to do this, the therapy relationship becomes paramount, in terms of empathy and lack of judgement.
Personal growth involves an opening up and moving out of a static, uninspired state of mind. Such inner change offers us an escape from mundane, routine ways of reacting to self and other.
Accepting responsibility for the need for personal change is crucial; unless we hold ourselves accountable, without blaming the past, others, or whatever else, there will be no movement forward into self- discovery.
With the therapist there for us, as a strong and calming presence, we will be more able to take the risk of facing our difficulties, ‘using’ the therapy relationship as a catalyst for change.
“Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me.”
Alexej von Jawlensky – Die Sinnende(The Pensive One) Wikimedia Commons.
“The doctor is effective only when he himself is affected. ‘Only the wounded physician heals.’ But when the doctor wears his personality like a coat of armour, he has no effect.”
What is the meaning of this important and rich quotation from Jung?
We are all ‘wounded’ by life in some way. Many people choose to repress and deny their woundedness, but unless the therapist is aware of their own wounds and has worked them through in their own therapy, then they will be unable to help others.
“Let us begin by simply stating that therapists must show the way to patients by personal modeling. We must demonstrate our willingness to enter into a deep intimacy with our patient, a process that requires us to be adept at mining the best source of reliable data about our patient- our own feelings.”
It is not possible to accompany anyone as a therapist anywhere you have not been yourself. Actually being in therapy is a unique experience. It is impossible to imagine or understand what this entails from the outside, from case studies, or from books.
Allowing oneself to feel something of what the patient feels in the therapy situation can only happen through a personal therapy.
It is patronising, and potentially harmful to our patients, to think we can grasp the nature of being in the patient’s chair only on an intellectual level.
As therapists, we really do need to understand how this therapy journey into the self feels, deep in our souls.
Otherwise we will position ourselves psychologically above the other, feeling that we do not need what they are receiving.
We will be seeing ourselves as ‘one-up,’ and the patient as ‘one-down,’ rather than as another struggling human being in a difficult world.
Memory. Elihu Vedder. Wikimedia Commons.
“… sooner or later she had to give up the hope for a better past.”
Irvin D. Yalom
Many people who come for therapy appear to be stuck and trapped by their painful and difficult past experiences.
They are beset with bitterness and frustration about having experienced sometimes awful childhood trauma and they often harbour an unconscious desire to “change the past.”
There is a kind of hope that the therapist can somehow make the past appear better for them, giving them the parenting they wished they had had, or becoming the very person they needed as a child.
At some point in the therapy, such magical and wishful thinking does need to be gently challenged.
The patient will need help to let go of the vain hope that the past can be changed, and to accept that they do have the strength for transforming the present and staying in the now, whilst still having hope for the future.
Monet painting in his garden at Argenteuil – (Pierre-Auguste Renoir)
“Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.”
© Linda Berman.