On the way to work this morning, I heard a radio ad, I think it was for some headphone, and the tag line was “Listen to the truth.” That really caught my ear and attention, given that I have lately been reading the very thought-provoking and influential psychoanalytic thinker, Wilfred Bion. Bion writes a lot about the truth. In fact, he places the search for truth, I suppose what others have called meaning, at the heart of the human quest:
“Nevertheless, that is what we are concerned with – inescapably and unavoidably – even if we have no idea what is true and what is not.”
And he puts that quest to know truth at the heart of the psychotherapeutic effort. To Bion, there is truth, though he believes that it is very hard to grasp.
Listening to the truth can be a difficult enterprise. To begin with, there is so much noise in our modern life. There is the cacophony of external sounds, the passing of trains, honks of cars, rattle of machinery. And there can be a lot of internal noises as well, thoughts, fears, anxieties, internal dialogues. Psychotherapy provides a space, a quiet space, in which to tune ones hearing toward the truth, especially toward the inner truth of one’s experience.
And psychotherapy provides another essential ingredient: another human being (in this case, a psychotherapist or psychoanalyst). I do not mean to imply that the apprehension (I suppose that I do mean the double meaning of that word) of truth is not something that one can do on one’s own. I think of mediation, a solitary experience (though sometimes done in the company of others) which provides one the truth of one’s experience. And of course reflection and contemplation. But given that we exist primarily as interpersonal creatures, we live in relationship to others as well as to ourselves, we learn in groups (even if the group is made up of two, therapist and client). Truth can more easily be accessed when it is verbalized. Often a client will say to me that it makes it “more real” to speak about his or he experiences. And of course the opposite is true: to conceal something, to keep it buried, denies it a life and also an exit strategy from within one’s psyche. The unspoken truths, particularly those of traumatic origin, exist ghost-like, often haunting one’s peace.
I am not sure how I feel about the existence of absolute truth. What is true seems to me to be so subjective. If I have a certain experience, who is to say that it is not true because someone else had a different one? We agree on things that are true because we agree. A client of mine used to point out that Sacramento, and not say Chico, is the capital of California. But it seems to me that there is nothing intrinsically true about that; what makes it true is that most of us (perhaps not all) agree that it is true.
I do know, however, that the pursuit of what is true is central to my understanding of psychotherapy. It is what I try every day to do with my clients. In particular, we endeavor and investigate to see what is true for them. What is their truth. And when we find it, there tends to be a certain experience. There is a certain knowing and recognition, not just intellectually but in the body as well (given that whatever truth there is about our lives resides inside our bodies). Sometimes those moments are described as “ah-ha” moments. But I don’t know if they are always so well identified or of such dramatic proportions. Sometimes, the truth is something small, quiet, not so loud and commanding.
And when we find the truth, there is also an experience of something opening for the client, of greater expansion and sense of space. There is always a fuller sense of just who the person is and what the world affords. And there is a sense of peace and calm that resides deep within even during the most calamitous and noisy of times.