Accurate, stimulating post from Monica’s site, http://www.beyondmeds.com, which features regularly on this blog. Her site is packed with useful resources/links, and excellent articles by Monica and others.
The writer finds reference points for what Monica describes in her own experience, and that of the people she works with. That phrase (‘people she works with’) is itself a relevant side alley. For the most part I use these words, instead of the – admittedly less cumbersome – word ‘client’. This choice arose from explorations of the themes Monica is covering – with someone I work with in a long term therapy relationship. We do not share the ‘mental health’ language or ways of seeing in our person-centered counselling service.
As Monica observes:-
‘Authenticity is often trained right out of mental health professionals and instead a vague and subtle superiority replaces it.’
Not always that vague or subtle – at one end of the spectrum, this mindset has ‘mental health professionals’ forcibly detaining/restraining people, and administering powerful and toxic mind-altering drugs without consent. But – like Monica – we notice that, even among therapists who self describe as person-centered, subtly dismissive, dehumanizing, hierarchical attitudes are common. The writer remembers her inner wince on a person centered training, when another participant told the group she worked with ‘young schizophrenic males’.
Monica is of course also accurate that these attitudes are deeply embedded culturally, and that we all without exception have our unowned shadow, our process triggers, our equality blind spots – if not necessarily of this nature.
So we have a number of key qualities we seek in therapists asking to work with us at this service. We look for enough of a fit between us and them, in terms of what they believe about being human, being a therapist, what makes for healing relationship. We would be unlikely to offer a place to someone who brought into the room ‘mental health’ language and assumptions. Even more important though, we look for someone who – be it through therapy or by another road – is able to be real and authentic, and meet this in others; shows a willingness to be vulnerable, messy, imperfect; has self awareness, and brings a commitment to doing their own work at depth (the lifelong task).
Ultimately, we want people in the therapist’s chair who seem most able to offer a real, engaged, loving relationship to another human being, in the service of that person’s healing and growth. Who – far from fearing and avoiding deep connection, in favour of an arm’s length ‘professional relationship’ – value intimacy, and see it as essential to healing. And who conceptualize the therapeutic relationship as inherently and fundamentally a relationship of equals:-
‘We are all on this planet trying to figure out what the heck we’re doing here…every last one of us. In that process we all suffer. And the reality is it’s a conundrum for every last one of us.’
We also look for some sense of the sacred in each one of us: Buber’s ‘I/Thou’ relationship – however we make sense of that. The writer is drawn to the Mayan greeting: ‘Lak‘ech Ala K’in’ – ‘I am another yourself’, and to ‘Namaste’ – ‘the sacred in me salutes the sacred in you’.
Obviously these ways of seeing and being are not limited to therapists, and there are many, many kinds of healing relationship out there. From where we are looking, perhaps the key factor is about awareness and self-ownership, as Monica comments – where we project, dehumanize and blame, we serve neither relationship nor healing/growth. Any of us can work with pain and shadow and conflict in relationship, provided we are able to stand encountering our own participation, and to meet our own pain and shadow in humility and compassion, as well as the other person’s:-
‘The mere instruction to avoid such intimacy at all costs seems like a violent denial of oneself and clients both. It seems indicative of a deep fear of one’s own dark parts. How do we help others find their way out of the dark if we hide from our own darkness?…….. Many mental health professionals not only know little about the deepest part of the psyche, they are terrified of it, adding another layer of obfuscation to the problem. When people in mental distress are terrified the last thing they need is to be met by a “healer” who is also terrified.’
Thank you, Monica.
Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter