The shape of the tree

People come to therapy expecting cure or healing from their problems. I don't think of therapy as healing in the usual sense. To heal means to make whole or healthy, to recover or restore and comes from the root kailo meaning whole or uninjured. In order to think of what I do as healing, I would need to see the people I work with, and indeed myself, as broken, ill and I don't, not in the sense of illness. Barbara Stevens Sullivan has a wonderful way of putting this:

"In some sense, a person is her wounds. A sapling, planted beside a supportive stake that the gardener neglects to remove, will grow around the stake. The stake's presence will injure the growing tree; the tree will adapt by distorting its "natural" shape to accommodate the stake. But the mature tree will be the shape it has taken; it cannot be "cured" of the injury, the injury is an intrinsic aspect of its nature." (The Mystery of Analytical Work, p. 175)

I do believe that all humans are wounded, varying in degree and type of wound, but we are all wounded. My first professor in abnormal psychology put it this way -- from the moment of conception we are bombarded by influences of all kinds, both noxious and helpful and as adults we are who we are at least in part due to the effects of these influences. Some of us will be more scarred than others, but none of us will be unmarked by the experiences of our lives. So wounded per se is the normal state, not a state of ill-health. 

Now, the extent to which our wounds make our lives complicated and/or difficult is where therapy enters in. Problems in living are what bring most people that I have seen into therapy -- the desire to experience life in a different way is the motivator. There is no procedure or pill or technique I can apply that will close the wound. Whether or not healing is the appropriate description for becoming conscious of something that is an integral part of us, an unerasable part of our history, is something I balk at a bit. I can become more conscious of the ways I have internalized people and issues in my life. Becoming more conscious of them increases the array of possible responses I have available to me, so I can choose differently and thus find myself not in the old familiar ruts but in very different relationship to myself and those around me. That is what I believe therapy does for people and indeed is what I have experienced in my own therapy. I cannot be what I might have been had I not had the mother I had or the experiences in life I have had -- I am indelibly marked by them. But I can be freer in how I live my life and perceive my possibilities through the process of examining my thoughts, behaviors, history, dreams, reactions. That is what talk therapy as I know and do it is about.

I see therapy  as opening the door to new possibilities. I cannot undo my history, make myself as if my childhood or any part of my life had been ideal. I can become more conscious of the ways that history and my interpretations of it have operated in my life and in that way allow me to choose from a wider array of possible behaviors as I go forward.  

Like that tree, I am the shape that I have taken. As are we all.


© Cheryl Fuller, 2016. All  rights reserved.