What is healing anyway?
What is healing anyway?
I have recently completed a 12-month professional development programme called Compassionate Inquiry (CI), which was created and run by Gabor Maté with Sat Dharam. One of the things that drew me to the course was the novel approach that Gabor has with regards the training experience. Let me explain a little bit of background: whenever we do professional development and learn new modalities (types of therapy), there is always a point in the training where we, the therapists, have to practice with other therapists.
It requires us to take turns being therapist, and then being the client. And we usually have a third member of a group (they’re called triads) who serves as an observer, giving objective feedback to the person practicing their learnings as the therapist. When I’ve trained in other modalities (EMDR, EFT, ACT etc) we’re encouraged to bring real-life examples of things to work on when it’s our turn to be the client, however there are usually some very specific parameters around it – such as not picking topics that involve childhood trauma, or things that haven’t been addressed in our own individual therapy. CI is really quite unique because a significant focus of the course is on our own self-development and self-awareness – as individuals as much as therapists. The very essence of CI is to get to the underlying interpretations or meaning that we have created based on our painful experiences and traumas. Therefore, there’s really no way to escape the painful parts, it’s literally not possible to avoid them in CI.
I’ve been super open (because it’s how I’m wired and because it’s associated with my core values of integrity, openness, and respect) about my belief that all therapists should be doing regular therapy. Not only because it’s important that we are tending to our triggers that come up as part of our work, but also because we all have things to work through. I think that the assumption is because we sit in the therapist’s chair, we must all have our shit together! Stuff happens in our lives too, and I think we can only act as clear mirror for our clients when we attend to those things regularly. As part of our CI training, we had to commit to at least 12 sessions of therapy across the year of training – and it was SO necessary! I first went to see a counsellor when I was 16 years old and have seen them on and off since then, and since working as a therapist, I’ve seen one regularly. And I think I always will because there will always be things that come up, trigger, and challenge me.
We had a conversation at our last CI session around what we thought healing might look like. One of the other people on the course explained that prior to attending CI he thought he’d worked through all his traumas and was surprised by how much the experience of being part of CI had unearthed for him. 12 months on the course had caused him to reassess how he conceptualised healing. I like to think of healing as like walking on an unending beach. At the beginning it’s like crawling out of and over shipwrecks, washed up on the beach and clambering over massive rocks and boulders. Over time there are fewer of those huge obstacles but still some difficult rocks to navigate, and then later still it’s like walking on a pebble-beach. When you’re quite some way down the beach it starts to feel more like walking on sand, littered with shells and small smooth stones. However, even when you’ve been on your healing journey for many years, comfortably walking on soft sand, there will still be shells (behaviours, moments, thoughts, events, traumas) to pick up and look more closely at. There will still be opportunities to reconsider well-worn patterns of behaviour and things that cause us to stop, pause and reassess old hurts. I don’t believe that being ‘healed’ is the right goal. (I don’t even like the term, but I’ll save that rant to unpack another day.) It makes it sound like there’s a utopian state of being somewhere out there, that only truly lucky, special or therapy die-hards get to go. I think that kind of thinking verges on the same toxic positivity that sets people up to think that there’s something wrong with them when they don’t have that experience. The idea isn’t that therapy is a forever-state either. My aim is to support people to be their own therapist, and only be on-call for new or extra-tough things, or when it’s time to peel back a few more layers of the proverbial onion. Most of all, don’t be letting anyone put a timeline on how long your beach experience is.
If you’d like to explore your own emotional regulation skills and would like a safe space to talk about your mental health, please get in touch with us: www.theabaker.com.au / firstname.lastname@example.org / 03 9077 8194.