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What Heals?

Updated: Feb 20

At this point, research on the efficacy of therapy is clear; the specific modality is largely irrelevant, rather it is the rapport that exists between therapist and client that determines whether clients report a successful outcome.

What is a successful outcome, you might reasonably ask?

At the most superficial level, we could say a reduction of the specific symptoms that brings a client to therapy. Ostensibly, this is the point of therapy. One feels somehow broken and seeks a professionally trained healer to mend the cracks in one’s apparently broken life. Without underplaying the very real physiological effects of trauma and various kinds of physical impairment, broken is often synonymous with a failure to adapt to society, or to effectively suppress our organism’s natural immune responses of sadness, rage, exhaustion and anxiety.

Undoubtedly, short-term, focused approaches such as CBT can provide a measure of relief, but they also appeal to the demand for fast results, and for this reason they might be best understood as analgesics rather than catalysts for the kind or re-alignment that deep and sustained integration* work can bring about. Of course, many seek only this kind of intervention, but it is worth considering that such things may only paper over the deeper cracks within a psyche that is reacting appropriately to our collective soul sickness.

* Integration refers to the gradual expansion of identity so that the conscious self includes, within it's sphere, aspects and energies of the psyche that had previously been rejected or repressed. We become gradually more aware of, and at peace with, the fact that 'we contain multitudes'.

Longer term healing practices, of which depth psychotherapy is one, can encourage a different kind of relationship to these cracks whereby they are reframed, not simply as obstacles to our happiness, but as communications from a part of us that is seeking wholeness. Our healing journey can become a dialogue with self that allows us to take our pain seriously so it can lead us to its origin. If we are brave enough, or have the constitution to bear difficult truths, we can allow this pain to work on us, to remould our lives in such a way that we come into alignment with the full spectrum of the authentic self.

This deep work has a number of significant additional benefits. It inoculates us against pressure to conform to values that are not our own, and returns us to right relationship with the body. Being in-tune with the body's organismic responses to our environment becomes a compass that guides us towards our unique expression in the world. An expression that is not the result of conditioning or adaptation, but is a truly original manifestation of life's creative force.

Being psychologically healthy is often a synonym for being adjusted to the arbitrary norms of society. What if healing is diametrically opposed to this. Instead of successfully squeezing oneself into a mould, what if healing is actually breaking the mould? Loving your own idiosyncratic nature more than the validation of the external world. I suggest that we all intuitively know this to be true, so why are more of us not spontaneously self-actualizing in this way?

In practice, becoming an individual is a difficult task; by its very definition, it implies a separation from one's tribe, and source of security. There are all kinds of familial and cultural mechanisms that work to prevent us from individuating, and multitudes of perverse incentives that reward us for remaining small. It can be an extremely disorienting process to re-examine our most cherished beliefs in the cold light of day; to see that our identity is constructed from ideas that we cherish, not for their intrinsic value or integrity, but for the function they serve in maintaining the illusion of security or control. In many obvious and subtle ways, society conditions us to be psychologically dependent on external sources of validation that come with pleasing others, and financially dependent on employment that requires us to subvert our values in service to corporate agendas.

I suggest that individuation is frequently the healing balm that can soothe our self-alienation and loss of vitality that give rise to the full gamut of chronic mental and emotional disturbance. Returning to my opening paragraph, the strength of the therapeutic relationship is tremendously vital in catalysing and facilitating this process. Having a trusted ally is essential as one begins to tentatively step outside the known in the quest for one's soul.


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