I wanted to share with you an article that I found, that played a role in the difficult (but ultimately step-changing) experience that I had in therapy recently, which I touched upon in my previous post. It is an article about the importance of healing past wounds, rather than ‘making up for them’. In particular, it talks about the importance of therapy enabling grieving what he did not receive as children, rather than becoming a substitution for it:
I’m very aware this is a hugely contentious topic, both amongst therapists and amongst clients. Even amongst those whose blogs I read and love, and amongst the bloggers who follow me, there are those whose therapists believe in very direct ‘re-parenting’ and in trying to provide what was missing for their clients; and those whose therapists believe they cannot and should not try to substitute for those missing experiences, but believe in emphasizing the grieving part of the process. And amongst the clients of the latter group, there will be many who yearn for that re-parenting and find it incredibly difficult to accept their therapist’s apparent ‘with-holding’, and those who have come to accept it, understand it, and even agree with it.
I would urge you to consider avoiding this article if you believe it could be triggering at this time for you – for example, if your therapy is progressing well in a re-parenting context, and you do not wish to read something that carries any risk of being unsettling. I completely understand that perspective, and indeed I share it, in that particularly during therapy breaks, I am very careful about not reading anything that could be even remotely triggering. And I would be horrified to think that anything I share might undermine anyone’s confidence in their therapy or therapeutic relationship, even a little bit. Every therapist works differently, and every therapeutic relationship is unique.
But for clients those whose therapists do not seek to ‘re-parent’, and who find that difficult and distressing – which I think it understandable, to be expected, and something I have repeatedly encountered myself – I think this article may provide a helpful perspective. Its key messages are that therapists do not with-hold on purpose, and that emotional healing really is possible. And as part of unpacking those messages, the article makes a number of helpful observations about the dynamic between the therapist and the client’s ‘inner child’ – observations which I found tallied very closely with my experience.
I should add that I do not agree with everything in this article; and as with many things, it is a case of choosing what is helpful for you. For example, I think it focuses on grieving the past almost to the exclusion of talking about what is possible now, in terms of the relationship with one’s therapist. I wrote an extensive series of posts over the summer, talking about the ‘new experience of mother’ that I have discovered in the context of my therapy. It is by no means a substitution for what I did not receive as a child, and it is not the sort of relationship that would exist between an adult and an actual child. But it is nevertheless an adult version of a deeply trusting and accepting relationship, that provides a different but incredibly valuable kind of ‘therapy mothering’. The article hints at that, when it talks about therapy helping individuals to develop a ‘core lovable self’. But in my view, it doesn’t say enough about it, and it also makes the statement that development of this self comes from the ‘goodbyes’ rather than the ‘hours of good time together’ – a statement I strongly disagree with, unless I have misunderstood its context and intent. The good experiences my therapist and I have had together have been just as important as the tough times we have been through, in terms of forging a close and trusting relationship, and helping me to better understand what a positive yet boundaried relationship can look like.
When I first read the article, one of the things that struck me most, was what an incredibly difficult job our therapists have, and what an immensely grey and delicate line, they have to tread. I feel incredibly grateful for my own therapist, and not just for her skill and experience, but for her humanity, sound judgment, compassion, care and humour. Despite our many cycles of rupture and repair, and the many times I have felt an undeniable need for ‘substitute parenting’, she has successfully kept my ‘inner child’ engaged in the work; giving what she could, when she could, and where she judged it would be helpful and necessary, and ‘with-holding’ when she felt it would be both possible for me to cope with, and ultimately in mine and the work’s best interest.
It is a point made beautifully by blogger ‘Tales of a Boundary Ninja‘ in her wonderful post ‘Why your therapist SEEMS cruel, but really isn’t‘. There is no better way to end this sharing of articles, by quoting her moving last paragraph:
“So the next time you are wondering how your therapist can be so cruel as to sit there and watch you be in pain and make no move to stop it, try to consider that it is an act of love which requires deep strength, compassion and discipline because so much of therapy is coming to grips with the deep grief over that which we deserved as children but did not receive. Our therapists must endure being the trigger that draws this pain out and then answer a pain not of their making with a deep compassion and understanding. I eventually learned a profound respect for BN’s ability to face and walk through that pain with me, instead of rescuing me which would have made both of us feel better immediately, because his sight was fixed on the long-term, on my healing”.