There are lots of wonderful techniques that we learnt in therapy training: different ways of reflecting what you have said, different ways of asking you questions and teasing out the issues that you bring to therapy, using feelings in the body, or using the natural world as a resource.
These are all great. And there is one special ingredient that makes a big difference as to whether these work or not. In fact if all you have is this special ingredient therapy can still be a powerful healing experience. What is this magic ingredient? It is the being-ness of the therapist. The aliveness.
Of course, I am a therapist, and I’m writing this on my own therapy site, and in some ways it seems audacious to talk about my own quality of beingness or aliveness. In this culture we are much better at being self-deprecating than we are at celebrating our good qualities. However, it’s such an important part of what heals and transforms that it would be remiss not to talk about it.
What is aliveness? It can manifest as relaxed spaciousness, or as vibrancy and energy. It is being alive to ourselves — noting the currents of our own moods and feelings; it is aliveness to the other — being able to make space for another person in a way that is free from judgment and responsive to their needs; and it is being alive to the world — taking part in events and meeting moments in a fearless way.
Ultimately it is what we come to therapy to receive.
We often come to therapy thinking about what we want to get rid of, rather than thinking about what we want to get from the experience in positive terms. We might want to move through grief, or find a way of getting out of depression, or reduce our anxiety. As we work on these issues in therapy our aliveness increases.
This has become even clearer to me as I spend time in groups with other therapists as part of my training. Looking back to my time in groups when I first trained, I can see that I often relied on my cleverness and on working things out. These are great qualities and the amount of calculating and working out that I was doing was restricting my relationships with others in the groups. Why? Because that calculating and working out was being used in the service of protecting me from my hidden fears about being in groups.
I’m grateful for that part of me, because it allowed me to be in those groups and learn things. And one of the things that I learnt was that it was enough to be myself. In fact it was more than enough: the more training I do and the more groups I take part in I keep learning that that the more I can be myself the more helpful to the group that is. When I am less fearful and more alive, the aliveness of the whole group increases.
The same is true in one to one therapy. The healing relationship comes from my depth of being myself, my lack of fear of my own feelings and my faith in the process —all of the more subtle qualities that I have receive from years of training, and from years of Buddhist practice.
When people come to me for therapy, I set an intention to be the most alive I can be, and I feel alive.
Come and see me for therapy and you will receive some of my fearlessness about being human, some of my faith in the value of us being ourselves, and some of my aliveness.