What makes successful psychotherapy so difficult?
- We all want to be our own expert and do it on our own. We think: “I should be able to figure this out!” Some things don’t work that way.
- Lee Iacocca said, “People want economy, and they will pay any price to get it.” Promises of cheap and easy cures are seductive, and can leave us feeling more empty and hopeless than when we started.
- Highly competent psychotherapists, to whom we can safely bring the delicate and painful truths of our lives, are hard to find. This is true in any field, but feels particularly unfair when one is in turmoil, frantic, or feeling hopeless.
- Many people think that psychotherapy is about “talking about your problems.” Sometimes talking is like running on an endless treadmill. Connecting with feelings in a particular way is often more effective to generate authentic change. This takes practice and guidance.
- As Sidney J. Harris said: “Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.”
What is body-centered, relational-existential therapy?
This approach is based on the common principles of a broad range of theories and techniques, and is individually tuned to your particular difficulties and goals.
Here’s a metaphor to explain how I sometimes approach the process of psychotherapy:
There’s a dark basement, where we store things that we are uncomfortable with. Everything would be just fine if things stayed quiet. Yet, the stuff down there keeps making noise and banging on the door, disturbing the peace of the house. You might have tried improving the sound insulation, or turned up the stereo so you wouldn’t have to hear all that noise. That was ineffective, or led to other problems like a headache, or constant tension, or despair. You don’t want to go down there, yet something inside you says you must go down there. But how? And why?
So, you come for therapy, and we go down to the basement together, and we do one of two things: shine some light on what’s happening so we can understand the source of the noise, reduce the fear, and see if there’s a way to resolve it completely; or we invite what’s been down there to come up with us into the light and join the rest of the world.
Goethe said, “You can never get rid of what is part of you, even if you throw it away.” Sometimes, trying to throw “bad” parts of us away, or just “accentuating the positive,” can be a major part of the problem.
The body-centered part of the therapy is the method for going into the basement. The relational part is how we build the trust and safety between us so that we can open the door and work in whatever way may be necessary to help you get what you want from therapy. The existential part is the commitment to a kind of change or transformation that is felt clearly, and that is lasting and authentic: a process oriented to feeling and actionto attain congruence between one’s inner felt-sense and one’s ideal self-in-the-world. For couples therapy, it means a transformation in the way you connect, trust, and find solace in one another.
What is propriophobia?
Propriophobia (PRO-pree-o-FO-bee-a) is Greek for “fear of one’s own felt sense” (technically: “fear of one’s own”). One might also translate it as “fear of the inner self.”
It is the name I give to what I consider to be at the root of many psychological symptoms, including a wide range of depression, addiction, and anxiety problems. This is not a new concept, and a great number of psychological theories all converge on this principle: We avoid that which makes us uncomfortable (including feelings and thoughts inside of us). In trying to distance ourselves from a felt truth inside us, we develop all sorts of symptoms and problems. Who has said this? Who hasn’t! Freud, Jung, the object relationists, the existentialists, Gestalt therapists, family/systems therapists, Zen Buddhists, and behaviorists all describe a version of this experience. We wish to escape, but we are trying to escape something felt inside, and we simply cannot. Paradoxically, ceasing our attempt to get rid of the problem actually makes it possible to begin to get rid of the problem.
Similarly, many mental health theorists and practitioners prescribe treatments that help the individual face, acknowledge, and integrate such “split-off,” “denied,” or “shadow” parts of one’s self. According to this approach, a full embracing of such awkward or difficult feelings tends to dispel them.
Folk wisdom says if you meet a ghost in a graveyard, run at it. As with a horror-movie poltergeist that will not leave the house until it is acknowledged, and respected on its own terms, such ghosts inside us must “get what they need” before they can “rest in peace.”
This form of therapy has more in common with a Taoist philosophy of health and “rightness” through the balance and integration of opposing forces than with the more western notion of destroying disease or banishing “sin.” Propriophobia is like a repulsion between different parts inside of us: an inner war between body and soul, our heads and our guts, between how we feel and what we think, or between who we are and what we’re expected to be. Therapy for this consists of dissolving and moving beyond these tensions.