Monday, February 15, 2010

Life is about Healing

Creation myths, stories of how the world and humanity came to be,  mythic though they be, give one a template from which one can usefully contemplate meaning, the meaning of one’s own life or the human endeavor in general. The biblical story of the 7 days of creation and the story of Adam and Eve present us with a tale that features paradise and the loss thereof, and a view of ourselves as  temptable, given to sin, and in need of redemption. There are many sub stories there, but I take those to be the main themes.

I prefer the mystical version of the creation story, featured in Jewish Mysticism (Kabbalah) in which in the act of creation, the divine light is accidently fractured (G_D is not perfect!) and scattered throughout the world. Each human soul possesses a shard of that light and the purpose of human life is to raise that shard/spark to the heavens, thereby healing the divine Cosmos. Healing is the purpose of life—to heal ourselves, to heal others, and to the heal the Cosmos. Besides not being perfect, G_D needs us.

If I had known this story early on perhaps it would have been my inspiration for training to do the work I do, psychotherapy. But I did not know the story until recent years, and my choice was driven by family and individual forces, largely outside of my awareness at the time. As I contemplate closing down my psychotherapy practice, my thoughts are very focussed on what this all has meant for me: can I really stop doing the work I have done for 4 decades? will it impoverish my life? will my days still have meaning for me? am I making a terrible mistake?

At present I have not even the whisper of an answer to these questions. Only a dim sense that is time to look for other ways to live my life.

But the coming end to my work as a therapist has made me philosophical about “healing.” I have come to believe, perhaps I have been taught by my patients, that the healing principle, the urge toward self mending is buried deep within, is part of the human soul in probably all cases. I have come to see my job, the job of psychotherapy as one in which I join my patients in the task of moving the trash out of the way. If one can dispose of enough trash the essential impulse toward wholeness arises. That job is never easy and often not very successful, but when it is, the patient’s heal themselves, they know the path. I do not.

I work with a lot of traumatized individual—people suffering from chronic PTSD, individuals whose life histories are replete with betrayal and the horrifying suffering that only other human beings can mete out. Mostly I have found that my spirit has been both repaired and enlarged by doing this work. People get better, very slowly, very painfully through the agency of a trusted, steady, and sturdy relationship as well as through the melting and processing of previously frozen memory “icebergs.” 

Surprisingly, yet frequently, there is a spiritual element that sustains them through their suffering and that element plays a large role in promoting the healing.  Its as if the Kabbalistic creation myth comes closer than others in describing the very real process of healing that takes place on an individual, human level. 

I am not always up to my job, assisting others in "raising the spark".  I have at least my share of failures as a therapist. But 40 years of doing my job has left me, foolishly or wisely, believing that life is about healing.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


In my twenties I moved a lot. A lot.

The college I attended had a “co-op” program which meant that every 3 or 6 months I moved off campus (and sometimes across the country) for a co-op job or I moved back from a job to campus. After 5 years of this it was on to grad school for two years (where I moved three times). And after that to New York City for a serious career job. I was in N.Y. for 5 years. I moved 3 times.

I married and we moved to New Jersey shortly after our first child was born. 
All of this made me crazy. I swore I would stay put from that point on. I longed to stay put. And that pretty much came to pass. We have moved only twice since settling across the Hudson. We are in our present house for thirty years.

Now I am moving again. Children grown, grandchildren born, retirement beckons and we have decided its time for a big change: more compact digs, new city, new life.

The process has barely begun and again… I am crazy.

During one of my moves from one Upper Westside apartment to another, a psychologist friend who did a lot of psychological testing and analysis told met that there was one Rorschach (inkblot) card that was a surefire diagnostic indicator for schizophrenia. Truly psychotic individuals had a characteristic response that reliably distinguished them from sane folk.

The Rorschach tests consists of a series of images that resemble inkblots—symmetrical blobby pictures that the tester invites the testee to interpret: what do you see here? People’s responses, at least the pattern of responses, are believed to indicate something important and enduring about the individual’s personality and their inner world. Interestingly, though, and she said this to reassure me, when moving, ordinary folk reliably respond like schizophrenics. Indeed I was probably only temporarily crazy.

Not only was I reassured, I regularly pass this information on to others, patients, family, friends who are undergoing a move.

This post is about my musings on this phenomena. Probably it is just the beginning of several posts on this subject, for this process will take many months and probably my craziness will take many forms

When I listen to the dreams of patients I have found that houses (and more women seem to dream about houses then men) a house represents the self in dreams. I have had many dreams in which I discover a secret unexplored room, or a room that I have forgotten was in my house. I remember a dream one of my children had when young about large, scary, snarly animals in the basement. The first dream seems optimistic—more facets of the self to explore, the second demonstrates the ubiquity of scary and probably angry feelings that children have to cope with as they grow into themselves.

My guess is that moving upsets the balance, that it requires a re-organization of the self and for awhile there is chaos inside. Many of the familiar props, those that assert who I am will change: the street on which I live, the stairs that ascend to my bedroom, even the smell of my home as I let myself in the front door.  These props help me to feel safe,  cohesive:  I know who I am.  Without them,  all of that is up from grabs.

My hope is that all of this challenge and change will lead to growth and expansion within myself rather than a term of institutionalization.   Stay tuned.