I struggle. I am well acquainted with pain. My practice is built, in many ways, out of my own experience.
During my first ever therapy session as a teenage client, I refused to speak… at all. I still remember that lost feeling. I did not know how to represent with words the overwhelming feelings inside and, the more I tried, the more ashamed and shut-down I felt. Thankfully, I had a therapist who welcomed all of me and invited me on a journey of self-integration. As I learned to acknowledge whatever emotion, sensation or thought I was experiencing, the therapeutic alchemy allowed it to transform into a more whole version of itself. It’s no exaggeration to say that some of my most alive moments have happened in therapeutic space. The therapy I offer today is an overflow of my immense gratitude for the therapy I’ve received.
As my clients disclose their despair, a sense of sacredness wells up in me—the sacredness of resting in authentic connection with someone tenacious enough to be vulnerable about what is real, no matter how painful. I can hardly believe that I have the privilege of creating safe space for this incredible labour of the human spirit. I get to midwife the birth of self-integration, every day. That is why I say that the mundane act of connection is sacred… because it is bears witness to the transformation and transmutation that occurs when we offer pain our full attention & presence while learning to befriend ourselves.
This sacred connection requires the labour of encountering our pain in a grounded way - with our hands and feet humbly in the dirt of our reality, pressing into the mud and the rocks that push back against us. The thing about pain is it doesn’t go away if we ignore it. If we don’t answer the door when it knocks, it will knock on another door, and then a window. It will knock until the window breaks. If we refuse to relate kindly to our pain, we’ll find ourselves dealing with suffering. But if we are able to turn toward rather than away from it, receive its message, and relate to it with compassion, then there is opportunity for growth, and healing and integration. This the very best and hardest work of our lives. As a counsellor I help guide and support this work of healing and growing, yet I can only be a healer if I’m willing to be a ‘wounded healer’, meaning that I must be willing do to my own work of turning toward and offering hospitality to my own wounds. My empathy, knowledge and compassion are grown and strengthened through my own experiences of pain and healing.
One of my favourite psychiatrists, Dr Irvin Yalom, writes about the healing that happens for both therapist and client during authentic, therapeutic connection.
He writes about the synchronicity of giving and receiving help, since both the act of receiving nurturance and the act of offering nurturance contribute to our sense of fulfillment. Therapist and client help each other, in their complimentary way.
No wonder I feel gratitude welling up inside whenever I think of my clients. They allow me to be a wounded healer who can fulfill the need to nurture; a need or value that flows naturally out the experience of having received nurture.
Through my experience of psychotherapy, as both client and therapist, I’ve learned that moments of authentic connection can seemingly bend time & space while transporting us, like prodigal children, back home to our unified selves - to our primal sense of ease, equilibrium, and vibrancy. While we may stray many times, once we know the way back, we can always return home to our healthy selves. When I say ‘healthy,’ I mean it in the deepest, fullest sense of the word, which shares etymological root as both the words ‘whole’ and ‘holy’. Psychotherapy, really, is a process of integrating our whole, healthy and holy selves. In this age of medical jargon and evidence-based practices, I’m not afraid to say it: ultimately, psychotherapy is a deeply spiritual practice. It’s about connection with oneself and others in a synchronous way. It’s about gritty things like embracing the mess that comes with birthing wholeness. Of course, I use evidence-based tools to facilitate suffering’s transformation into healing connection with self and other, yet the whole is more than the sum of its parts. The synergy of how it all happens still contains both mystery and wonder. You just have to experience it, for it is the act of becoming more fully alive.