It was my colleague’s graduation, the end of a roughly 8-year post-graduate journey training to be a Jungian psychoanalyst, a branch of psychology heavily weighted towards the writings of Carl Gustav Jung. A beautiful spread of cheeses, desserts, and floral arrangements graced the reception room. He would have loved it. The only problem was that he had succumbed to cancer and died a couple of weeks prior.
His therapist came to the posthumous celebration and spoke. He shared that in the last stages of my colleague’s illness, he would come to therapy, lie down on the couch, and ask his therapist to read him fairy tales. He would often read him Hans Christian Anderson, and my colleague would drift into sleep, having used a lot of his energy just to make it there in the first place.
This story has never left me. Like the refractions of a prism, it showed me the possibilities and grace of a process normally weighed down by expectations, goals and a hunger for evidence. I once had a client come to his session so exhausted, I led him on a short meditation and then let him sleep for the vast majority of our time together; it felt like the most therapeutic intervention I could do at the moment.
I believe that therapy occupies a particular place in society, and in some ways, for all of our theoretical adventures and desires to further understand the human experience, it hasn’t changed a great deal. Psychotherapy began with a curiosity to explore what could not come to the surface or be expressed in the light of day, what was weighed down by the demands of society for consciousness and persona, and what would break the subtle and sometimes not so subtle requirements to conform. It was and is a longing for a rapprochement between the energy that we expel to show others what they want to see, and what the deep desires of our soul and selves demand.
This never ends. Until it ends. There are stops along the way, successes, failures, and pauses, but the need to feel seen and to be seen, this lives in a kind ethereal balance the entirety of our lives. We might say that we are lucky at certain points to share this profound curiosity with another, another who can tolerate our differences, accept our own version of life, and share something of themselves so it is less lonely and more bearable.
But it never ends. And rather than feel as if this is some failure of our profession to come up with short term solutions that can satisfy society, the workplace, insurance companies and doctors, I believe this is the bravest and most honest contribution we can offer our world. I am forever grateful that my colleague’s therapist came and spoke. It’s a lesson for us to listen, to hold the door open for what is needed and what is possible. As Erich Fromm once wrote, the goal of therapy is to engender curiosity in the human being.
Well, I guess we must also ensure we don’t lose it ourselves.