The January issue of Thresholds features existential psychotherapist Amy Bramley’s exploration of the different selves we bring to the role of therapist, in the context of her work with Ukrainian and Russian refugees. This piece, Displaced by war, along with others in the January 2023 issue, got me thinking afresh about who we become as therapists and whether that ever stands apart from who we are as people.
I looked to Eugene Gendlin’s writing for answers. Describing himself in a therapist role, he writes ‘…I am just here, with my eyes, and there is this other being. If they happen to look into my eyes, they will see that I am just a shaky being. I have to tolerate that.’1 Quotes such as these provide a measure of comfort. How soothing to think that we could be enough in our vulnerability. And who doesn’t want to be perceived as authentic? Or hope for authenticity in the therapist to whom they entrust their inner struggles?
But there’s usually a whole lot more to it. In training, you tend to get told, or at least I did, that going into this work will change who you are. Which is quite a scary prospect when you stop and think about it (notwithstanding the fact that we are all changing, all the time). Then you get piled up with the many shoulds and should nots of the therapy world, adding a dose of fear about how to be, or not be, in the room.
Bringing up spirituality, or faith, within a counselling session isn’t straightforward territory. I was reminded of this when reading Andrzej Jastrzębski’s book, Integrating Spirituality into Counselling: methods and practices. (Andrzej’s colleague Samoon Tasmim writes about the book in A multi-faith integration model). In the foreword, David Perrin contemplates the historical move away from spirituality in many fields, including therapeutic ones. In an interesting reflection on the state of things, he points out that: ‘…compassion and forgiveness are egregiously understudied in the psychoanalytic literature. These words are often filled with religious connotations for the counsellor and thus avoided in therapeutic conversation. This is unfortunate because disregarding these realities concomitantly throws out or diminishes conversations about transcendental notions such as sacrifice, mercy, and care and responsibility for others…’
It draws attention to what risks being extracted when we cautiously avoid whole areas of potential exploration. These concepts are, for sure, multi-layered, and often loaded. It’s complicated. I’ve a deeper appreciation of this after reading journalist Marina Cantacuzino’s book, Forgiveness: an exploration, which documents two decades of work gathering victims’ and perpetrators’ experiences of forgiveness.2,3 In The complexities of forgiveness you can read about how this has shaped Marina’s own understanding of both forgiveness and spirituality and her thoughts on the religious principles bound up in forgiveness.
Do get in touch and let me know your thoughts on the themes in this issue. I welcome pieces of writing about how therapists work with spiritual concepts.
1 http://previous.focusing.org/gendlin/docs/gol_2110.html (accessed 2 January 2023).
2 https://www.theforgivenessproject.com (accessed 2 January 2023)
3 Cantacuzino M. Forgiveness: an exploration. London: Simon and Schuster; 2022.
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