I have been meaning to write something about the difficult times that so many people are experiencing now in so many ways. Jobs lost, tighter budgets, a thick cloud of uncertainty. But before doing that, a word about thanksgiving and gratitude. I’m writing this a few days after Thanksgiving holiday with the intention of stretching the spirit of gratitude past this holiday and the long weekend.
There is something therapeutic in the act of giving thanks. Usually the psychotherapeutic process involves a focus on unearthing and ameliorating those issues that cause emotional and psychological (sometimes physical) pain. People come into therapy usually because they are suffering. The noted psychiatrist Irvin Yalom has written that he begins sessions by asking “What ails?”
A great deal of the work that I do with clients is focused in this way. But I have also done a lot of work with the practice of gratitude. Sometimes clients I’ve worked with have created gratitude lists, writing down in list form the various things in their lives that they are thankful for. And sometimes they have drawn and depicted in some way these things. Often this is not an easy task. Sometimes a client, especially one struggling with depression and suffering a great deal, will feel dejected and conclude that there is hardly anything to list. Most often though, that client can write down a number of things – relationships, jobs, health – and think of more.
There is something healing in taking the time to observe and appreciate all that there is to be thankful about. This is part of what I call reality therapy. Noticing what is there and developing an attitude of acceptance. This is not simply “being positive.” This work, combined with a deep examination of what troubles a person, makes for a rich therapeutic experience and fuller sense of life.