“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
This feels wholly true. We all, personally and collectively, live through aspects of our own suffering in ways that adversely affect others (and this is also true in the macro sense, in terms of how we engage with the natural world). In therapy, we hold space where people can experience their pain, and experience being understood and lovingly received in real relationship – we hold space for the other….and that creates an environment which supports the unfolding of that person’s own inward resources to heal, grow and expand. Of course the therapist has some baseline needs in play too (for example in terms of receiving the payment that allows them to spend their time in this way, and still have the means of living themselves)… Yet for the most part the attention in the therapy room is on the other person, their experience, their needs. That is the focus of the shared enquiry. It works only if the therapist follows a parallel process in their own life – be that though participating in therapy themselves or in other ways – meeting their own needs, and engaging with their own pain and awarenesses and growth, as a lifelong, commitment-based practice.
There is a yet more sensitive and complex task in relationships outside the therapy room, where both people are seeking to meet pressingly felt needs in the relationship – be it partners, or friendship, or parent and child, or colleagues, or….. That brings the challenge of somehow navigating our differing needs, our wounds and fears and undigested traumas, our stories about ourselves and each other, the countless ways we miss and bruise each other…. and of course it is all too easy simply to pass on pain, to deepen our own suffering and that of the other person, even where there is love and loving intention on both sides. And we can also tip into fear-based ‘othering’ or dismissing or demonising the other person, seeking power over, morphing into oppression, cruelty and dehumanising behaviours, And yet most of us persist, seeking the places within relationship where fear diminishes, our hearts open, and we can receive ourselves and each other. We seek the warmth of sunshine on our skins. We need each other.
Both within and outside the therapy room, it is relationship that – potentially – heals.
Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter
Counselling Exeter since 1994