Two Lessons from 30 Years as a Therapist

Two Lessons from 30 Years as a Therapist

INDEPENDENCE STEMS FROM INTERDEPENDENCE: Unable to drive due to a foot problem emanating from my lower back, I found that to get to my psychotherapy practice, support group, or the film series I co-moderate, I had to ask people I didn’t know well for rides — not something I was comfortable doing. To my astonishment, people flocked to my aid, sometimes traveling nearly 100 miles round trip to drive me. Upon reflection, I realized that my notion of independence was fundamentally flawed, and that, paradoxically, true independence comes from interdependence, which emerges from a matrix of shared love and compassion. When we need it, the matrix returns all we have given during our many years of participation. Sharing this insight has turned out to be particularly valuable to my male clients, who feel a loss of dignity and masculinity when they can’t face their challenges alone. Essentially, I reframe their position as one of strength, as receiving a return of investment for all they’ve chosen to give from a loving and dedicated heart.

THE GOLDEN RULE IS A MEASURE OF RECIPROCITY: I practice in Newport News, Virginia, which is sandwiched between the twin towers of the Bible Belt: Liberty and Regent universities. I find that my clients frequently overidentify with the New Testament’s compassion teachings and set aside the verses that would allow them permission to say no. To facilitate their healing and growth, I suggest they rethink the Golden Rule, “Treat thy neighbor as thyself,” as emphasizing the equality of each part (i.e., not to treat thy neighbor better than thyself, or treat thyself better than thy neighbor but rather, equally, so each gets an even break). Further, I offer reframing the teaching as “Treat thyself as you would thy neighbor,” or “Allow thy neighbor to treat you as you would treat thy neighbor,” to stress different emphases that still maintain the equality of the original verse. Oftentimes, these interchanges emerge as key moments in therapy.

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