Since returning from the end-of-the-year vacation, I have been thinking a lot about the place of mystery in our lives. And in particular in psychotherapy. The other day, while listening to an NPR program, I heard a debate between two scientists about whether or not consciousness could ever be fully understood. One of the scientists held the opinion that science can uncover all of the mysteries of the universe. According to him, it is just a matter of time before the intricacies of consciousness (which includes the nature of memory, identity, how we know something and know that we know) will be known. The other scientist held a more skeptical position.
Last week, as I was returning to my practice, I was noticing just how central a place mystery holds in the therapeutic process. While it’s true that sometimes clients come in with very specific agendas, knowing what they want to talk about, inevitably in the process we together stumble onto the unknown. The unknown can take the form of a memory that just spontaneously emerges, or a fantasy, or our conversation moving into a topic that was not planned by either of us. And while it is fine and often productive to talk about the planned topics, I often find that it is in the unplanned areas that there can be a more impactful experience. It is here where powerful emotions often occur and deeper insights are felt.
Sometimes at the end of a session, I will think to myself about the course that we charted, the direction that we went. Sometimes I will ask myself, “Now how did we get there?” I very much like that experience: it is inherently alive. I’m glad that there is this element of mystery in the psychotherapy experience. These days there seem to be fewer and fewer opportunities to experience it.