Psychotherapy in Darkness

I think often of this powerful quote from Jung on therapy:

“The principle aim of psychotherapy is not to transport one to an impossible state of happiness, but to help (the client) acquire steadfastness and patience in the face of suffering. ” -C.G. Jung

How very different this view of therapy is from what most people seek. Jung understood that suffering is a part of life, that it has meaning and that to live fully is to know that suffering will be a factor in one’s life throughout life. If I look back on my own life, I know that I have learned most from those times which were difficult and often painful, not because I wanted to but because of the choices and consequences i faced at those times. The good times, the times of great happiness are wonderful and I have celebrated and cherished them and look forward to more. But it has been in those dark times when I have had to face myself and look deeply into my life and my actions that I have grown most.

Reflecting on consolations and desolations, joys and sorrows, is a part of many spiritual practices. Matthew Fox wrote in modern terms in Original Blessings about the Via Negativa, the path that takes us into darkness. So much of post-Enlightenment culture has been about the flight from darkness that many of us have lost sight of the meaning and value of darkness. New life begins in the dark. Seeds germinate in the dark.

Therapy which acknowledges and even embraces the dark times, suffering as well as joy, opens the door to that new life and creativity that can come from them.

Millennials and Online Psychotherapy

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A Tweet about this article caught my eye before the holidays: Millennials and the false allure of online psychotherapy. Just the term “online psychotherapy” can mean anything from Skype or FaceTime sessions to email. Not all therapists are comfortable with or accepting of therapy except when done face to face in the consulting room. So I am used to seeing articles here and there decrying therapy which occurs via telephone or Skype. And that is what I expected to read about in this article. To a degree, that is indeed what I found.

After describing factors that seem to make millennials “the most stressed out group in the country”, there is this brief bit:

With Talkspace, for just $25 per week, clients can purchase “Unlimited Messaging Therapy” that allows them to text with a therapist whenever emotional problems arise. The Web site for the app states, “just like texting with a close friend, you can now message your therapist every day, for an entire week, writing as many times as you want.” Initial sessions for In Your Corner cost as little as $25 dollars for “instant expert support when you need it.” That might include online therapy, written coaching plans and stress-reduction techniques from a meditation instructor.

I had only recently heard of these quick response options from my son, who is just starting out in private practice and considering what he might offer. When he asked my opinion, I asked him if he really wanted to work with anyone on that kind of uncommitted catch as catch can sort of basis, because in my mind, it is not therapy but more like a stop at a first aid station for a band-aid now and again. He tried to make a case for it, thinking maybe some people would want to convert over to more regular scheduled therapy. I told him that when therapy starts with such a haphazard frame and very little commitment, it doesn’t seem likely to change because in accepting it, the therapist is colluding with the patient in his or her belief that a quick fix, an encouraging word as needed is sufficient to actually deal with ongoing issues and problems. 

Years ago I had a copy of the fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”. And there was a line in it that seems to fit the therapeutic process — the road is long and hard but when you get to the end, you will find great reward. Therapy isn’t about becoming happy or soothed but is about traveling the road inward and becoming more conscious about oneself and life experience so that a greater freedom of choice becomes a available. It isn’t a pacifier there for instant gratification. No matter how much any of us might like to have something like that.

It is ultimately, no matter the orientation of the therapist, the relationship, which can only develop over time, that heals, that fosters change. And that can’t come in texts or quick emails. And yes, it can occur over time talking with a therapist over Skype or the telephone.

Now to spend some time reflecting on how our children came to expect that “instant expert support when you need it” is the way to go.