Self-Acceptance in Therapy
Reflections on Therapy
What is the Therapist Doing?
A Focusing-Oriented or Experiential Approach to Therapy
Stages of Therapy
My TT.CA main page
Reflections on Therapy
Much of my profile on the web site is guided by the writings of C.G. Jung, as few people have been more insightful on the nature of psychotherapy. What follows are some further reflections on psychotherapy within this framework.
The word therapy comes from the Greek verb 'therapeuein' which means to pay attention, to listen, and more significantly, to attend, as in waiting upon, in the way that a nurse or midwife attends to a patient. Psychotherapy is very much about waiting for the right moment for both therapist and client to say what is known and to acknowledge the unknown. Often people find themselves expressing things in therapy that surprise them. They may not have been aware of thinking or feeling these things before, or they might have been too fearful to express them. As we grow more confident in exploring our lives and seeing where we have become stuck to patterns of being which no longer hold any meaning for us, we come to gain a new sense of who we are and who we can become. It is really not so much that psychotherapy solves problems for us as that we gain the ability to deal better with the dilemmas that life presents to us. What is “attended to" in therapy is really the emergence of a new sense of possibility when it shows itself no matter how briefly.
C.G. Jung used a chemistry simile to describe the psychotherapeutic process. He wrote: "For two personalities to meet is like mixing two chemical substances: if there is any combination at all, both are transformed." Often mention is made about the necessity for a good match between client and therapist. The relationship or "chemical reaction" that client and therapist are subject to and through which both are transformed is the heart of therapy. The psychotherapeutic relationship is an unusual one because it is not only a personal treatment but also a collaborative venture within a professional framework.
The psychotherapeutic relationship is also one where the sum is greater than its parts. In this relationship, as in others, there is a steady commitment to listen, exchange, and reflect on our experiences with another person. The fundamental difference is that the focus is on the clients’ experiences, allowing the client to present whatever truths or meanings these hold for them. Therapy is not a method for putting something into or onto a person in order to bring about a change. Jung strongly warns against a too prescriptive attitude in therapy: "What direction a [person’s] life should take ... is not [a therapist’s] to judge. We must not imagine that we know better than [the client’s] own nature, or we would prove ourselves [therapists] of the worst kind." The therapist’s concern is to be with the reality of the client’s experiences within the context of their life and opening up the meaning of these experiences for further reflection and investigation. In this way obstacles can be removed from the path of development. The more we are able and willing to disclose who we believe ourselves to be, the more the therapist is able to enter into our experiences. Then the therapist can give a voice to the meaning these experiences may hold for us. We, in turn, come to see these experiences in a different light. This is part of the transformation that Jung refers to in the dynamic "reaction" between therapist and client. By reflecting upon our experiences in the presence of another we discover the possibility that things can be different, that changes can be made and that by embarking upon new found choices we can dare to be who we really are.
The French writer Sartre once wrote, "Everything has been figured out except how to live." One comes to therapy for a variety of reasons. At the root of these reasons is a driving need to change our lives for the better. Yet therapy is not primarily about figuring something out. Rather it is very much about learning to live our lives in a way which has meaning and purpose.
© Malcolm Welland 2008 May not be duplicated or distributed without permission of the author.
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