What is the point of therapy?
Updated: Oct 27, 2019
When we first enter into therapy, we often do so secretly hoping that we will be fixed in some way. We aspire to reach a place where our problems are resolved, where we are no longer in conflict with ourselves. We just want things to get better so we can feel ok again.
And that's fine. It's a very human response to finding ourselves in pain and discomfort, and it's the thing that drives many people to therapy in the first place.
As time goes on, though, we might find our understanding of what ‘ok' means starts to evolve. We may come to see that what we are hungry for underneath is something that looks more like wholeness, something more akin to a sense of aliveness. And those two things (by definition) are going to include some difficult experience in them in all likelihood.
So what then? What are we left with when our innocent desire to ‘just feel ok' starts to fall away? How do we orient ourselves in a world that presents as more complicated, more nuanced than we might initially have been willing to embrace; a place that might require a more complicated response of us? We begin to sense that perhaps there are no ‘solutions’ to be had in the way we once thought. What does it mean to engage with therapy in this context, to continue to work on ourselves if we are not just trying to get fixed?
The old Greek word ‘therapeia’ meant something closer to tending to, or sending breath into. Seen this way, the therapeutic process becomes one of midwifing ourselves into a new way of being, one in which we can allow ourselves to experience the pain, confusion and anger we feel when faced with the enormity of trying to find our place amongst the world and all its problems, and we allow ourselves to break open to what we find there. This is very different from our modern idea of curing, fixing, or healing ourselves in some way, all of which have the assumption at their root that what is required is to somehow get rid the problem.
The truth is, we fix one set of problems only to find ourselves in the middle of another kind of trouble.
Things tend not turn out the way we thought they would. We fall to the ground, we stand back up again, only to fall and fail again. This habit of things not turning out the way we thought is not evidence that we’ve fallen short, or that we're doing life wrong somehow. It is simply the way of things. It contains an invitation to engage, to become curious; to offer up our soft under bellies to life, rather than always trying to fight our way through.
If we are in tune with the rhythm of our lives as they actually are, rather than as we would wish them to be, we will find there are times when we must grieve the dying and crumbling of the world as we've known it, the ending of the things we thought we wanted, the things we thought we knew to be true. That process may come swiftly, or evolve more slowly over time, but if we are paying attention, we can be sure that it will come...and likely keep coming repeatedly over the course of a lifetime.
There is grief in acknowledging on some deep level that all things must, and will, change - the people in our lives, our ideas about ourselves and who we are, our bodies, the places we live, our work, the things that provide us with meaning and guidance in this world...all will change and shift.
To grieve is to consciously honour the dissolution, to allow our old dreams to depart, knowing that new dreams will come to take their place. It is to learn to live with uncertainty and see it not as a mistake but simply as the way of things; to see the repeated making and un-making of ourselves as a sacred process...a shaping by alchemical forces we don't fully comprehend into a vessel able to contain more and more of ourselves...a crucible in which the various forces of life are able to combine and find expression. Thus we become more fully alive, more present to the rich complexity of existence, open to it all, not needing to push this or that bit away, simply attending the process of being truly human.
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