Therapy as a Healing Process

Many people come to therapy for healing. While I cannot offer a quick fix for whatever brings you to therapy, what I can offer is a process, a space, a relationship through which healing may occur. I can help to create the conditions in which healing is possible. 

What are some of the conditions that may facilitate healing in therapy? These may differ for different people, they may differ for the same person on different days or within the same hour. Here are some possibilities for conditions which may promote healing for you:

  • Permission and encouragement to share whatever is on your mind, no matter what it is. I don’t usually set an agenda at the start of a therapy session but rather allow space for you to bring whatever is on your mind. Any thoughts, feelings, emotions, associations, dreams, fantasies, imaginings are welcome. A relationship with another human being where your full subjective experience is welcome and can be explored with kind attention can be very healing.
  • Welcoming of any feelings and thoughts about therapy or about your therapist. This may include doubts about the therapy process (eg. This won’t help), things that annoy you about your therapist (eg. I hate it when you speak softly like that) or any number of things that you may think are not “nice” to share. It can be healing to share these thoughts and realise they are welcome in the therapeutic relationship. Actually, they are to be expected. And by sharing these feelings and thoughts it gives us an opportunity to think about whether there are ways we can work differently together that will better meet your needs. 
  • Honouring of the protective parts of yourself. The protective parts of ourselves are sometimes called defences. There are many different ways we may protect ourselves. Just a few examples include withdrawing from others, attacking in words or physically, living in our thoughts and forgetting we have emotions and bodies. We may respond with different protective parts at different times or with different people. We have each developed these protective parts of ourselves in response to difficult experiences. These may be significant traumatic experiences or they may be less visible things that we’ve experienced such as lack of emotional responsiveness in a caregiver. It is important to recognise, honour and thank these protective parts for the hard work they have done in taking care of us. Sometimes the process of honouring these parts is healing in itself. It can also be healing to recognise the situations where these protective parts are no longer needed. We can learn to release them and open to new possibilities in the way we respond in relationships and in the world. 
  • Some guidance in different ways of contacting and storying experience to assist healing. If you have a painful story that you have told in the same way for many years, to yourself and/or others, it may be healing to explore this story in new ways. Your story may contain mainly third person, descriptive narrative (eg. When I was in grade three I made a piece of art and my teacher threw it in the bin. When I saw my artwork in the bin I walked out of the classroom). I might help you explore whether there are any beliefs you’ve developed based on this story (eg. I’m no good at art). I might help you to notice, remember or imagine other parts of this story by asking questions eg. How did you feel when you were creating the art? How did you feel when you saw it in the bin? Who else was present in your story? How might you have liked others to respond to you in this moment? I might help you contact any feelings in the body as sensations. By exploring your stories in new ways this can allow stuck patterns to shift and new experiences and possibilities to emerge.

These are some possibilities for conditions which may promote healing for you. Are there other conditions that come to mind for you as you read this?

One Important Reason to Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness practice is not always easy. So why should we bother practicing it? Especially when we first start to practice mindfulness we might become even more aware of how busy and scattered our mind is, of tension in different parts of our body, or of memories we have been avoiding. Although we might sometimes experience a delightful sense of ease and joy while practicing mindfulness, this is not always the case. Why then would we want to do this? 

One important reason to practice mindfulness is increased choice. We need to notice what we’re experiencing, thinking and doing in order to make different choices. This is key. Otherwise we act automatically. Lack of awareness of our choices means we don’t have the ability to see where we’re creating unnecessary suffering in our lives. Without knowledge and choice we repeat the same unhelpful patterns over and over again. Like most people, I know this from experience!

Around 10 years ago I experienced years of chronic neck pain after a car accident. As often happens with chronic pain, the pain continued even when there was no physical injury remaining. My yoga teacher, Tam James from yogaphysio took me along to a 7 day silent insight meditation retreat with Buddhist teachers Subhana Barzhagi and Carol Perry. Through calming my mind and practicing mindfulness on this retreat, I learnt something important about the pain that Tam had been trying to explain to me for some time. I saw that the way I responded to the physical sensations in the body was making it worse. I noticed thoughts like “This will never end” and “My neck’s going to be damaged forever” and I became aware that I was tensing around the areas where I felt pain in the body. Once I realised I was doing this I had a choice. With practice, I learnt that I could let go of the extra thoughts and tension I was adding to my experience. This was a big relief! I found that without the added extras the “pain” was less painful and could at times simply be experienced as strong physical sensations in the body. 

The increased choice that can come with regular meditation practice allows us to learn to reduce the unnecessary stress and tension in our lives.