Psychotherapy is about healing relationships between clients and therapists. Sure, lots of other stuff happens in psychotherapy – therapists offer whatever they can to help – but the bottom line is always the healing relationship.
I believe all therapy systems have validity and utility and fit together in an integrated whole that encompasses the incredibly wide breadth of the human experience. In my book, Waking Up, dozens of such systems are organized using Ken Wilber’s Integral model and David Deida’s work with the masculine and feminine
Psychotherapy – How is it Possible?
Psychotherapists and clients relate in ways that help clients remediate symptoms, enhance health, and support development. To do this, therapists relate, teach, inspire, confront, interpret, and direct throughout the session depending on what everyone brings into the room.
In many ways this is an impossible task. Imagine you are a therapist sitting down with a client. You have an hour. What needs attention?
Is your client physically comfortable, healthy, or in balance? How can you tell?
This person has consciousness, a sense of self. Does he or she radiate a comfortable or uncomfortable sense of self?
We all are social beings, embedded in various social networks and relationships. Is there harmony or conflict in your client’s social frameworks, and how can you tell?
All people have both a masculine aspect of deep consciousness, hunger for purpose, and attraction to feminine radiance, and a feminine aspect of radiant love, yearning, and attraction to masculine presence. Your client almost certainly has predominantly a more masculine essence or a more feminine essence in their sexual relationships and in their social and professional networks, and can be more open or blocked depending on who they’re with, what state they’re in, and lots of other variables. Is your client open and true to his/her deepest sexual essences, or blocked and constricted? How can you tell?
We each are constantly developing simultaneously on a variety of developmental lines such as self, cognitive, moral, spiritual, and relational. What lines are most important to the work today? What are this person’s most natural levels of functioning on different lines? Integral psychology calls these natural levels “centers of gravity” on particular lines. What’s needed right now to support development on those lines? How can you tell?
We carry our past with us consciously, unconsciously, and in bodily tissues. Is your client’s past a peaceful place? Does he or she feel liberated and strengthened by the past, or shackled, wounded, or disabled by the past? How can you tell?
Our brains constantly anticipate and conceptualize our futures, from a few minutes to decades away. Does your client anticipate with pleasure or anxiety? Is there peacefulness associated with inevitable death (the conscious knowledge of our own death is one of the main prices we pay for self-awareness), or terror, anger, numbness, or dissociation? How can you tell?
Your client has a felt spirituality, a constellation of physical sensations and cognitive constructs marked by a sense of the sacred. This sense of the sacred can be associated with any number of things such as prayer, meditation, nature, love, family, communion with others, work, play, life, death, places, ceremonies, or ideas. It is not an intellectual construct as much as an interior, visceral experience that identifies a spiritually charged area. This felt spirituality, consciously and/or unconsciously, yearns both away from the body for oneness with transcendence beyond physical reality (ascending spirituality), and also into the body for feeling oneness with all of nature, sensation, pleasure, pain, and communion with others (descending spirituality). Are both these ascending and descending spiritual hungers being satisfactorily met? How can you tell?
Can your client effectively self-regulate and self-soothe in different life areas? Are there situations where they lose it, attack or abandon themselves or someone else, and just can’t manage? How can you tell?
Your client has responsibilities to self, work, family, and relationships. Are these responsibilities powerfully and joyfully embraced, or are they experienced as burdens and constraints. How can you tell?
Your client needs a sense of personal meaning and/or deepest purpose. Are these needs identified and satisfactorily met, or does your client suffer from not knowing or being true to his or her deepest meaning or purpose? How can you tell?
Your client has a constellation of defensive states that can automatically kick in under perceived threat. These states have characteristic amplified or numbed emotions, distorted perceptions and thoughts, destructive impulses, and decreased capacities for empathy and self-reflection. How do you help this person cultivate awareness and abilities to shift into healthier states of consciousness, and how can you tell when they do?
You, as therapist, experience a wide array of perceptions, sensations, thoughts, feelings, and impulses during the session. How do you process and act on these to best help your client?
Now, imagine that your client is joined in the session by their lover who also has all the above issues and concerns. At least in their sexual relationship, this lover is likely to have a more masculine orientation if your client is more feminine, or a more feminine orientation if your client is more masculine. This lover has all the issues we just explored, and shares with your client desires to love and be loved more, and to hurt and be hurt less. The complexity of the session has just increased by an order of magnitude. Relationships are living, intersubjective, energetic and behavioral systems that have their own patterns and demands, relational defensive structures, strengths and weaknesses that need attention. Within each couple’s system there are two sets of individual characteristics, defensive structures, goals, and agendas, plus relationship issues. How do you prioritize and address all these new factors?
Good therapists cycle through multiple perspectives
It is, of course, patently impossible to simultaneously address this overwhelming wealth of material in general, much less in one hour. What good therapists do is stay anchored in the healing relationship and cycle consciously and unconsciously through multiple perspectives during the session. These different perspectives enable therapists to identify issues, prioritize agendas, discern interventions, and maintain a healing relationship.
Psychotherapy is an art
Psychotherapy is an art and every therapist has a natural healing style that draws from many sources but is essentially a unique expression of that clinician. Because of this I focus much of my teaching on sharing exciting perspectives and techniques with the goal of inspiring practitioners to delve more deeply into their natural healing styles – natural healing styles that constantly evolve.
Just as we change and grow throughout our life cycle, our natural healing styles change and grow. Therapists were just as dedicated and confident in 1980 as they are today, but we know a lot more today about every area of the human experience. Research has generated a wealth of new data, systems, and useful perspectives that enhance and complement the practice of psychotherapy. Are we better therapists today? Probably in some ways. On the other hand, I’m sure there are people in need who would benefit more from having sessions with 1980 therapists than with 2011 practitioners.
The psychotherapeutic relationship is idiosyncratic and dependent on so many variables that the chemistry of the moment often trumps the experience and qualifications of the therapist. In five years I imagine I’ll have some different perspectives and approaches. Does that make my current work inferior to the work ahead? I suspect in certain cases it does and in some it doesn’t. For these reasons I believe a natural healing style is always a work in progress – extending throughout the life of the healer. I do my best to surrender to that process and I encourage other therapists to do the same.
Whether you study therapy, practice therapy, or seek therapy, look for these kinds of perspectives – perspectives that put the relationship first and focus on the fluid evolving nature of human existence in general and you in particular.
It’s a pretty amazing process, endlessly fascinating, supporting personal evolution towards deeper love, compassion, and wisdom.