“When we are no longer able to change a situation we are challenged to change ourselves.” —Viktor Frankl
Stepping into therapy with a certified counselor is a form of corrective action undertaken because something in me feels unsatisfactory, to say the least. This venture entails catharsis (feeling) and recollections (talking) about my past life, and in the best of circumstances, leads me to new awakened and empowered choices, habits, and lifestyle (willing/doing).
Part 1 Awakening—Talking about what has happened so far to bring me to therapy
In therapy we display the slings and arrows that have hit us along the way in life.
But what was our first state of mind? We started at birth unencumbered by concepts, language, or higher cognitive functions. Here is the newborn infant arriving as William Wordsworth put in 536 Ode:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy…
Can Romain Rolland be on to something with his “oceanic” feeling of limitlessness in the infant? “It is a sensation of an indissoluble bond, as of being connected with the external world in its integral form,” the like of which is unique to infants. [Freud] “deems it a fragmentary vestige of a kind of consciousness possessed by an infant who has not yet differentiated himself or herself from other people and things.” (SOURCE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oceanic_feeling)
Therapist Kevin Hennelly of Santa Fe says more about the infant’s sensorium, the entire sensory system of the body. In infants it is wide-awake—unmatched and incomparable during the first 18 months on planet earth. The infant is aware and knowing at the level of soul, the emotional, the energetic and the psychical—even the cellular level.
In Part 3 below, regarding healing, we will see how early deficits, injury, or attachment disorder might have been the bequest of those initial 18 months. And Wordsworth’s next lines illustrate how things get set us up for therapy:
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy…
I agree. Even if the infant is sleeping, how could there be an “oceanic feeling” given the terrestrial life into which (s)he is born? Go to the archives and read the old newspaper of your birthday. There was a “buzzing, blooming confusion” (William James) going on out there in the world somewhere.
Might we entertain a dark metaphor—namely that from the moment of birth, it is almost as if all of us, man and womankind, have been sentenced to consciousness? Are we born into a penal colony of consciousness?* The provinces of astrology and Hindu karma supply us with another range of impacts on the story we might bring to therapy.
Miller, A. (1991). The untouched key: Tracing childhood trauma in creativity and destructiveness. Anchor Books. See, indeed, for confirmation of my dark metaphor.
But I feel the need to balance my rather grim opening by sharing a spiritual perspective. From the lightening flash mind of Paramahansa Yogananda regarding our coming to be and consciousness-being: “I am the Ocean of Spirit that has become a human wave.” I have never heard a more startling and consoling thought, and nearly everyone with whom I share this is momentarily taken aback.
Part 2 Awakening—Feeling the distress of our story
As we tell our story in therapy, painful feelings are likely to manifest; maybe repressed, maybe denied to date, maybe unknown to us until the flood gates are breached.
The skillful therapist leads us step by step toward the catharsis, toward loss of composure, the weeping and gnashing of teeth. In my opinion, some form of breakdown and jettison of pent up feelings (suitable to the level of trauma) is practically, if not absolutely necessary as a significant aspect of effective therapy. The patient feels a sense of reliefA sense of relief comes to the patient.
A sine qua non of this process requires that the therapist take on the role of the nurturing, approving, caring parent for the vulnerable person. This is where Kevin Hennelly’s advisement makes a lot of sense: that therapists awaken their heart chakra.
“My mind is like a bad neighborhood, I try not to go there alone.” —Anne Lamott
Part 3 Awakening—Willing/Doing
Willing and doing is the final stage of ‘Awakening,’ and it means that there has been a healthy manifest change.
I have more hope of individual awakening than return to a social, spiritual, metaphysical garden of Eden. I do affirm that enlightenment and transcendental awareness are my personal great expectations for myself and others. The work needed to get there requires, by all accounts, self discipline, and receptivity to teachings and guidance from the sages and wisdoms of the ages. The blockages are extraordinary considering the gauntlet of everyday human affairs and the after-effects of human atrocities throughout recorded history.
Skill Building, Counseling, Therapy
In my work in therapy I encounter the shadowy matters of personal lives. There are some of us who have a few self-inflicted wounds resulting from unskillful behavior. Also clients complain that slings and arrows of outrageous misfortunes, including mental disorders, biological inferiority factors à la Alfred Adler, have flown at them and wrongs have been done unto them. The results are anxiety, depression, holding resentments, neurosis (there’s a word you don’t hear very often), addiction as coping, or feeling the existential dread and futility of it all.
More intricate wounds are engendered as far back as the fragile first 18 to 24 months of life; then all the subtle, or not so subtle, deficits of care givers have resulted in trauma and related attachment disorders. Kevin Hennelly teaches “Clinical Applications of Attachment Theory” for adult and adolescent clients in Santa Fe. The feeling of isolation and grief in the client calls forth skillful means in the adept clinician. The therapist offers, says Hennelly, unconditional positive regard, affinity, empathy and recognition to the hurt client. According to Hennelly, the client can realize that his/her unnamed loneliness and isolation are being witnessed. The client’s unconscious ailment of hurt can be bravely vocalized without judgment, and also honored and attended to by the clinician.
If we are bummed out enough to step away from our attachment to our narrative and pain, there is no lack of treatments and hope for recovery: skill building, counseling, and in-depth psychotherapy. There are also Western medicine, Eastern medicine, peer support groups (the 12 steps and more) and personal consciousness raising. There is also just plain hanging out with a good old buddy who won’t stand for one’s BS, and this can work well enough for routine questions of life.
Recovery is made up of three components as we have seen: cognitive/talking, emotional/feeling, and behavioral/willing/doing recovery. They move sequentially or overlap in whichever therapy one may choose.
Component 1: Cognitive/Talking Recovery
Getting better starts with my wake-up call (cognitive) that I have something I am pressed to change, cure, heal. Next, I tell my story and review the factors that have built up to produce my problem.
In formal therapy the story can be told in the classical ‘talking cure’ sessions, or by psychodrama, art therapy,
EMDR*, NLP**, by Albert Ellis’s ABCD*** process—to name a few.
*Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is a form of psychotherapy developed by Francine Shapiro that emphasizes the role of distressing memories in some mental health disorders, particularly posttraumatic stress disorder. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_movement_desensitization_and_reprocessing
**Neuro-linguistic programming is an approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in California, United States in the 1970s. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuro-linguistic_programming
***Albert Ellis thought people developed irrational beliefs in response to preferential goals being blocked. He set this up in an ABCDE model (Ellis and Dryden, 1987). … “B” refers to one’s Irrational Belief about the event at “A.” That belief then leads to “C,” the emotional and behavioral Consequences. https://psychcentral.com/lib/rational-emotive-behavior-therapy/
Telling the history of my wounds is intended to bring insight, understanding and realization, and these are powerful curatives. However, at the appropriate time, telling and retelling my saga and hard times needs must be surpassed. At last my old narrative can be replaced, and a new trajectory of my life to come can be plotted. In down to earth terms, I could come to formulation of a profound life vision and mission going forward (The Path by Laurie Beth Jones).
Component 2: Emotional/Feeling Recovery
Along with the story, the next step in getting better is feeling the emotions that come up, or flood in, when I tell my story—released through tears and sighs—sadness, fear, resentment, anger, shame or guilt. Hey, there might even be some happy feelings too—based on happy memories.
Component 3: Behavioral/Willing-Doing Recovery
Components 1 and 2 are only two thirds of the work. Component 3 may possibly be the least emphasized force of recovery in therapy where only insight into the issues, and related catharsis of the pain of the issues, are emphasized. Component 3, then, entails a consciousness of my will-power, my repeated commitments and choosing/behaving to get better by means of various new habits. This choosing/behaving is the willingness to heal, reform and thrive as the foundation for a new self-validating narrative. It is quite different in force and form from the innumerable acts of will that propel me through my ordinary day. Behavioral recovery itself is the will to power and to renew my life. This is not to say that the path forward will be free of obstacles and set backs, but recovery still involves one’s patient and self-compassionate commitment to live a conscious reformed life.
Beyond cognitive and emotional recovery is the dynamo of my will. It does entail knowing specifically what I am choosing to reform, but simultaneously important is the doing. This means I form a goal and concrete steps to get there. (See Mental Health Through Will-training: a system of self-help in psychotherapy as practiced in Recover Inc., by Abraham Low.) There are countless “choice points”* to stop the self-pity and self medication. In fact, one can utilize resentments, fear, “seeing red,” meanness, sorrow/grief as actual cues to re-direct going forward. The cues can be poetically considered “gifts,” or calls to come alive.
*Solomon, R. C., & Blandford, J. (2000). No excuses: Existentialism and the meaning of life. Teaching Company.
Now we have arrived at Stage 5 according to Prochaska and DiClemente (1983)—“Maintenance” (persistence with a recovery and a reform value system). “I have achieved my primary goals (my symptoms have subsided) and I am working to maintain my gains and successes.”
“Came to accept I am powerless…”
I am not unaware of an alternative view of will held by the 12-Step program. This ‘will’ is defined in the first three steps:
- admitting that I have been powerless over my addiction or other challenges, and
- that there is a power greater than myself that can restore me to sanity, and
- “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”
There is an in-joke at AA meetings—thinking I can recover from addiction by myself is like thinking I can will away diarrhea.
Well and good for those who are drawn to question or doubt if their personal power can heal. So then they surrender to the higher power outside themselves. But recall, AA talks of willingness, and the 12 steps are loaded with activities and corrective actions. There is no lack of get up and go in AA. Yes, deliverance through my higher power, but I must deliver myself to the meetings and the study of the Big Book.
Southwestern College, from which I was graduated, publishes the following regarding consciousness on its web page. I was taught this, and have retained it ever since.
Consciousness, as understood at Southwestern College, is the capacity and willingness to cultivate the highest possible level of awareness regarding our personal, social and spiritual purpose for being here, and to live with intentionality and in accordance with that awareness. The development of higher consciousness or awareness creates a capacity for enhanced decision-making and resourcing in our lives, which in turn supports the aim of all helping profession activity—empowerment. So to us, Consciousness is very practical as well as profound…