Sunday, March 16, 2014

My hippie moment


What should psychotherapy look like in my last thirty-eight years?*  People will continue to be distressed.  Children will continue to be hurt, and grow up to be distressed.  They will want to be happy or content, will have a sense of meaning or will manufacture it.  Some will be receptive to influence – by friends, teachers, books, therapists, internal dawning – but many will be unable to be moved.   I wonder sometimes if therapy is preaching to the choir: We only help those who want to be and can be helped.  Nobody changes those who can’t be changed.

Quite a few clients seek help but can’t grow up.  I think that growing up is required to be a helpable person.  Yet maybe that quality is also preaching to the choir: Only those who have the innate capacity to be adult, can be.  Some people refuse to be independent; some don’t know, in their bones, what that state means.  Recently a thirty-eight-year-old man asked me, artlessly, if his profession is a good one.  When I asked him why he still lives with his mother, it was a new and mildly startling question to him, and he had no way to answer it.

My sense – though never explored until this moment – of what I’m doing in my work is different from what it was at the beginning.  Then, I was enthralled to stay up all night manning the suicide hotline.  It felt earth-moving, life-changing to be on the telephone with someone, seemingly touching the thin nerve of their life’s meaning with my delicate fingers.  Now, much older, I no longer feel a crusade.  An individual leaning toward suicide would, it is true, bring my depth and excitement to the surface.  But generally, I see the timescape of distressed people in a general way, undulating along the streets, and wonder what I want to do with them.

There is one strand in me that wants to be the helpful shocker: Ex-Lax and diamond drill at once, wrapped up in a punch to the nose that says: “You want help?  Look under your basement to your dungeon, at the demons that are still eating your child alive.”  I’d mock-answer the phone: “Little shop of horrors.  You are a baby.  How do you feel about that?”  Another part of me understands that we are all in the same sweet-and-sour trap: good in bad, bad in good are who we are.  But that fact still makes me want others to know more about that.

Therapy through the rest of my life seems to extend beyond psychology to existence, but I know that means nothing because everything is psychology.  We cannot live the cosmos without feeling something about us.  We may believe in an infinite god but feel like a turd in the gutter.  We may believe we are just a randomly congealed set of particles embedded monolithically in a bigger pond of particles – animate and inanimate barely different – yet feel as serene as a god.  It’s all psychology, the universe.

I hope to see clients for many years, maybe hold some groups.  Something tells me poetry may be a part of it, and a kind of intimacy that melds psychological utter truth with the escapist best, love and travel into van Gogh’s starry night.  In Carl Sagan’s novel Contact, Ellie Arroway’s alien father says: “. . . in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.”  I would add, “and knowing each other.”


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* Though I could bite the dust tomorrow, I’m assuming that I will not only live ’til one-hundred, but will be working ’til then.

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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.