Theoretical and technical considerations aside, therapy is essentially more like a conversation, a sustained enquiry into the experience of trying to live with integrity and imagination in a complex and difficult world.
It certainly takes strength and courage to be curious about our lives and the sources of our disquiet and suffering. In the privacy of a therapy it becomes possible to engage with what is difficult and out of sight.
Talking to someone who is not invested in your life situation is unlike talking to family or friends. A therapist should be able to make well-judged challenges to your usual way of seeing things, aimed at unsettling your preconceptions and habits, whilst at the same time supporting you in the discomfort that this kind of conversation usually engenders.
There is an element of risk in this endeavour which applies to both client and therapist alike. Neither knows where such a conversation will lead, and both participants will need to develop the trust and capacity to remain talking, particularly when conflict arises, as it sometimes does.
This work happens outside of the usual routines of daily life. It requires a protected space, a literal and metaphorical space in which we can refocus our attention. The degree to which we can create this space together determines much about the work we might do.
When we tell a story we exercise control, but in such a way to leave a gap, an opening. It is a version, but never the final one. And perhaps we hope the silences will be heard by someone else, and the story can be continued, can be retold.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
Writer & novelist
... and after the fire, a still small voice.
Kings 1, 19; 11-12
Therapeutic work takes time, and more often than not, more time than anyone wants it to. Finding the right words to convey the complexity of our experience is seldom easy. The wisdom of the body and the promptings of our dreams are often of great help if we can develop the capacity to listen and attend.
James Hillman (1926 - 2011), the founder of Archetypal Psychology
(a radical reworking of Jungian theory) wrote two papers in the late 1970’s and early 80’s which are now to be found in the slim volume
The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World (Spring Publications, 1992).
Of primary concern in Hillman’s essays is the life of the imagination as it pertains to the work of therapy. Without imagination we lead impoverished lives; it is the imagination that invigorates our living and allows us to engage with the world in meaningful and creative ways:
The word for perception or sensation in Greek was aisthesis, which means at the root a breathing in or taking in of the world, gasp, ‘aha’, the ‘uh’ of the breath in wonder, shock, amazement, an aesthetic response to the image presented.
in The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World