What if We’re Wrong?

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What if a person really could forget the horrors of the past?

Yes, I know; we therapists tell you it’s impossible to do without paying a price. We say that you have a lumber room of the mind, a hidden closet in which you stuff all the traumas and memories you wish you had no use for. We say, in time, the contents of this room start to smell. House guests, looking for the bathroom, will open the wrong door and let all your heartaches escape. The closet gets crammed with memories, so that if you try to put one more in, two more are dislodged and tumble out at your feet. All the horrors will find a way out, somehow, or they will make life difficult if they remain locked up. There’s no end to the neuroses, psychoses, character dysfunctions, family dysfunctions, and general malaise you are subject to if you try to put anything into that closet.

Therapists tell you it’s impossible to be effectively rid of the past and want you to take our word for it. You have to deal with the past, clean out the closet, pull out every item in turn, dust it off, and find a place on the coffee table to keep it. Face your demons or forever be running away from them. Deal with it, we say, as if you’re a lackadaisical croupier and we’re eager blackjack players. Become conscious of the unconscious, we urge. And we would be the very people to help you.

“I don’t see what this has to do with me,” you might say. “I don’t have any demons in the closet.”

Every therapist would then just smile. It’s no use trying to explain repression to someone who’s repressing. You’re never going to get it.

But, what if therapists are wrong, and it is possible to forget the horrors of the past? Continue reading

Shame

Photo by Ryan Magsino on Unsplash

We have no emotion that’s not useful in some way. Everything is there for a purpose, even an emotion that undermines its purpose.

I’m talking about shame. Its purpose seems to be to help us fit in with others. Shame, and its milder version, embarrassment, comes up when you violate a social norm which might get you expelled from the group or, at least lower your status. Continue reading

What’s the Best Form of Therapy?

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The easiest method of doing something is not always the most effective; but it is the easiest, so that’s saying something for it. Easy is more effective than the most effective if the most effective is impossible for you to do.

When it comes to treatment for mental illness, if I were to rank the forms of therapy in order of effectiveness, meaning how thoroughly and reliably they can solve your problems, I would put it like this:

  1. Group psychotherapy
  2. Individual psychotherapy
  3. Medication
  4. Reading self-help books

But, if I were to rank them the easiest to hardest, it would go like this:

  1. Reading self-help books
  2. Medication
  3. Individual psychotherapy
  4. Group psychotherapy

Continue reading

What Anger Really Says

Old Posts

I once facilitated a therapy group for perpetrators of domestic violence. The group was made up of men who had gotten in trouble with the law and were ordered by the court to attend. These men were not happy to be there.

It was our unenviable duty to teach them that violence is not necessary. We had help from what we called the Duluth Model.

Continue reading

The Perils of Understanding

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I once worked with a deaf female client by having her type what she wanted to say to me, and I typed to her. I didn’t know much sign language but was eager to show off what little I had. As she wrote about herself, I kept making the sign that I thought meant, “I understand”. She looked at me funny until she told me that the sign I kept on making was for “horny”.

Mistakes were made, by both of us.

The mistake she made was when she jumped to a conclusion, without thinking for a moment that there might be some other meaning to the sign I made. She thought my sign had to mean “horny” because that’s what it means, apparently, in American Sign Language. It didn’t occur to her that the sign I made only meant I wasn’t fluent in American Sign Language.

I made many more mistakes in this interaction than she did. I was mistaken by the sign and I was mistaken in believing I could use sign language to communicate with her. I should have stuck to typing. But, the most serious mistake was in saying and believing I understood when I didn’t. I have an excuse. This was before I learned about hermeneutics.

Continue reading

Cleaning the Closet

Old Posts

We are certain to encounter the past.

We are confronted with it if we go back to the old homestead, step in through our childhood door, and walk into our early days. We face it if we unpack memories along with the ornaments for the Christmas tree. Either we choose to spend time the past, or it is guaranteed to call on us. Continue reading