Psychotherapy and Searching Through the Past

I am fond of blogging about the wisdom that clients share with me. There is not a day that goes by without someone saying something that is so wise, so truthful, particularly about the psychotherapeutic process, the process of healing.

Such a comment came just the other day. A client talked about the slow process of therapy and made the analogy to the field of archeology. She likened what was happening for her in our work together to an archeological dig, where pieces of interest need to be carefully dusted off, examined, and understood for their historical value. The metaphor is such a revealing one. While there is, of course, a great deal of focus in psychotherapy on the present, on how one lives one’s life and how one wishes to live, what changes one wants to make, the past, the shards that are found, dug up, and examined, hold powerful keys to understanding the present and making those desired changes.

The past can hold such treasures. And, of course, it also is comprised of memories of pain and suffering. Sometimes those pieces belong to the individual’s history, experiences that he or she had, but at other times the family history, sometimes generations of history, is discovered to be an influential force on someone’s life. It takes time to discover what lies beneath the surface. The process, just as it must be for someone on an archeological dig, can be slow. But when something of interest is revealed, and when that piece holds answers to mysteries, problems and dilemmas in the person’s life, the search is rewarding and well worth the effort.

What might be found? Perhaps it is some previously forgotten memory, maybe one of pain or trauma. Through the discovery, and the experience reworked with someone (the therapist), that historical occurrence can better be relegated to the past and the pain it casts lessened. Perhaps what is revealed is some family history, a way that the client is perpetuating an experience that may have originated generations back. Or perhaps the discovery is of a certain understanding the person has about himself that radiates at the core of his identity a limiting and negative light about himself. The understanding made by these discoveries makes it possible to shine a new light onto issues of the present.

There is something healing in the process as well. I don’t know how it is for the archeologist on a dig; I imagine that person needs to enjoy the process given how few discoveries may actually be made. I do know what it is like in my office each day. Of course, great discoveries aren’t made daily. But day after day, the process of the two of us, client and myself, slowly and steadfastly digging side by side has a healing power itself.

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