Many times the question comes up during therapy: “What heals?” A client will ask, “How do I get past these issues?” And sometimes clients will say, “I’ve dealt with these issues before and they don’t go away.” Or “I’ve felt these feelings my whole life.”
The question of what heals is an essential, but complicated one. Often the issues that people bring to psychotherapy have haunted them for years. And there are no easy answers. But I know, because I witness it happen, that psychotherapy offers the potential for healing these lingering wounds from the past.
And from my experience, I believe that the pioneer of this process, Freud, was correct. What he discovered, and what I discover every day in my work, is that the path of healing is through grief. As we all know from grieving losses we have suffered – losing important people in our lives, treasured pets, past jobs – the healing process requires feeling these complicated feelings and going through the stages of grieving. Eventually, we are able to move through the loss and enter into new relationships, new jobs…
But what Freud discovered, and what is true today, is that this path is facilitated through relationship. When one grieves with someone – in this case, with the therapist – the process of healing takes place. It is through relationship that we grow; and it is through relationship that we heal. Perhaps it is the process of being witnessed as one feels through the experience. It often seems to me somewhat mysterious. But there is a process that happens when two people interact that makes for healing.
What I find when working with people with terribly painful past histories that continue to weigh down their lives is that while they have felt this pain for what seems like forever, they have not engaged in this process (often one that takes time) of feeling that pain in relationship. All too often people’s experience is in fact just the opposite: they feel alone and isolated in their pain. When we engage in the therapeutic process, with the foundation of the relationship that we create, the healing process – the grieving process towards greater freedom and release from that pain and suffering – commences.
Human beings are essential socially creatures. As I said above, we grow in relationship. All too often we can be wounded in relationship. But we can also heal through relationship. And that is the work of psychotherapy.