All psychotherapists have to answer the above question for themselves. Soulful psychotherapy is not about running a ‘psychological technique’ on people. Our work is primarily based on how we have handled the experiences life has dealt us and the teachers we’ve encountered from early on. I was fortunate, in so far, as many teachers have taught me; some from literature, some from my profession and quite a few who I’ve met in the oddest places throughout my life.
One of my earliest mentors in the profession was Carl Jung, who had this to say regarding the education of a psychologist:
“Therefore anyone who wants to know the human psyche would be better advised to bid farewell to his study and wander with human heart through the world. There, in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling hells, in the salons of the elegant, the stock exchanges, socialist meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than textbooks a foot thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with real knowledge of the human soul.”
Psychotherapy is not delivering dogma from the halls of academia. Some theory and classification of the human personality, however, can be a useful tool for us when we are lost, which happens frequently. As psychotherapists, we are confronted with our own ignorance about the human soul very early on in training.
Every patient is a unique individual in their own psychological condition. It is much more important to establish trust with our patients than to demonstrate a clinical theory. The doctor has something to say, but so does the patient. The patient needs to be treated with total relatedness, which includes open dialogue, encounter, safety, and absolute confidentiality. Compassionate and feeling Eros is more important than intellectual Logos, even though the latter also needs plenty of room for expression.
There are two kinds of suffering. The first category includes suffering all human beings encounter at various stages in life. It might be loss of a friend, parent or spouse, unexpected failure, betrayal, loss of health or a job, divorce, extreme financial stress etc… For this kind of suffering we, as psychotherapists, hold the other in compassion and empathy. We might have to temporarily carry hope and accompany our patients through the swamplands of the soul – depression, despair, doubt, grief, fear, rage or anxiety. We stay closely connected and when appropriate, share our own descent into the abyss and back. Once patients return from below, many realize: “I’m not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” (Hollis, 1996) Through suffering, we come to wisdom. The soul’s evolution is often more enhanced by loss than by gain.
In the second kind of suffering, we contribute to our symptoms and basically create them, which is referred to as neurotic suffering. We’re stuck in the status quo of repeating self-defeating patterns and habits over and over again. The good news is, if we are responsible for our suffering we have the power to undo it and heal. This takes courage because we need to take an honest look into the mirror and acknowledge who we really are and not who we want to be to others. I only work with those patients who are committed to the inner work, because an hour out of their life is an hour out of mine. If they are willing to not ignore their inner life, they are welcome.
Dr. Peter Milhado © 2012