How healing happens

Often people come to a therapist seeking good advice and fresh insights into their difficulties. On occasion the therapist provides these. But for the most part, that kind of intellectual process doesn’t have much to do with depth therapy. Instead it is an emotional and spiritual journey, one in which the therapist and the client seek to connect with corners of the client’s soul that have suffered from neglect, distortion, or abuse. Together they work to create a safe space for growth. The process is not always easy and requires commitment, patience, and care by both client and therapist. Here is one of the gentlest and truest descriptions I know of the process, taken from the late spiritual writer Henri Nouwen’s moving book about his own struggle, The Inner Voice of Love.

A part of you was left behind very early in your life: the part that never felt completely received. It is full of fears. Meanwhile, you grew up with many survival skills. But you want your self to be one. So you have to bring home the part of you that was left behind. That is not easy, because you have become quite a formidable person, and your fearful part does not know if it can safely dwell within you. Your grown-up self has to become very childlike — hospitable, gentle, and caring — so your anxious self can return and feel safe….

“As long as your vulnerable self does not feel welcomed by you, it keeps so distant that it cannot show you its true beauty and wisdom….

“Try to keep your small, fearful self close to you. This is going to be a struggle, because you have to live for a while with the “not yet.” Your deepest, truest self is not yet home. It quickly gets scared. Since your intimate self does not feel safe with you, it continues to look for others, especially those who offer it some real, though temporary, consolation. But when you become more childlike, it will no longer feel the need to dwell elsewhere. It will begin to look to you as home.”

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