Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Some days I think that no one changes, for better or worse, as a result of my therapy with them.  Other days I believe that everyone grows at least a little, even from a single poignant disconcerting evocative-psychoeducational session.  Of course, these are passing moods that come from the molecular mess.  The fact is that we are poking a trowel into the earth and hoping to stir the iron-nickel core at its center.

Such pretension, to think that our stuff and our way can change the nature of a person!  Considering that “change’s” definition is as self-created as “good” and “God.”  Many clinicians believe people are sick because of their self-destructive thinking.  Others, because they are holistically injured.  “Change,” then, would be different accordingly.  Most believe that thinking different alters feeling.  I accept the opposite: Pain – feeling – generates thinking.  Irvin Yalom, famous existential psychotherapist, has based his lifework on the assumption “that basic anxiety emerges from a person’s endeavors, conscious and unconscious, to cope with the harsh facts of life, the ‘givens’ of existence,” these “givens” being “the inevitability of death for each of us and for those we love; the freedom to make our lives as we will; our ultimate aloneness; and, finally, the absence of any obvious meaning or sense to life.”  (Love’s Executioner, 1989, p. xii-xiii.)  Yalom – a bright man and beautiful writer with such a stupid idea.  If he were right, then a little girl would be depressed not because her father is incestuous but because she must live on the insubstantiality of pure choice then die alone without meaning.  And Albert Ellis, the joker in his breast pocket, would indict the child’s faulty catastrophic thinking: “My!  Life’s a bummer!”

What is change?  I have recently informed a client, late thirties, that to heal she will have to stop being herself, must give up her one identity as an abjectly needy child-woman, become a stranger to herself.  For her, change would be death followed by reincarnation as a different animal.  I, a sometime hypocrite, know that I will never critically change, transcend to being a highly mature and financially foresightful person.  Despite my self-work I am still wounded and refuse to build a gold statue on balsa wood.

Arthur Janov says that therapy’s goal is not to help someone “become” anything, but to simply be who he was by birthright: a healthy person without defenses, open and free in the world.  But to that end, he might need to become “hopeless,” to give up hope for the loving parent who never existed.  Healing, then, is to cut off one’s gangrenous leg and walk on yet stronger.

There are all kinds of change which we, as helpers, can foster.  If you can get an angry-hurt parent to love his child, he is better and the boy is healed for life.  I helped a medic, soon returning to Afghanistan, realize that the standards of achievement and performance he has levied on his son are “killing childhood”: The boy no longer lives by his heart but by his father’s retribution pain.  This man and I became, in a fine moment, “bonded” sad children as we contemplated what it feels like to be told you are a disappointment.  In a kind of enchanted shock, he asked, “How do you go on after that?”

Change happens when pain moves inside of us: We are given it or we release it.  Test this for yourself.

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.