Empowering people to make life changes on their life journey
I help people make changes in their lives, whether through psychotherapy or health education, by helping them to see their lives as journey. In psychotherapy, clients transform their problems into tools of personal empowerment that develop inner resiliency. At the outset, clients need to show a willingness and courage to honestly look at themselves – particularly, at the emotional wounds that have caused a distortion of their sense of self. I ask clients to describe the pressing problem that brought them into therapy. As they make behavioral changes, I help them begin the integrative process.
Some people come for counseling to get fixed. In order for integrative personal change to take place, clients need to view psychotherapy as a journey of discovery, an opportunity to take a serious look at their life. Dag Hammarskjold said, “The longest journey is the journey inward.” For those who do not want to work on themselves and want fast results, psychotherapy will be brief. Psychotherapy can be brief or long, depending on the need and the degree of commitment of the client. By long, I’m not talking about the old psychoanalytic model of 4 or 5 years, or more; rather, I’m referring to a journey that can last anywhere from 5 to 10 months. If the client wants to work for a longer time, that is possible, but I will not hold the client longer than is necessary to make needed changes. The length of time in counseling needs to be such that the person can integrate deep changes in all aspects of his/her life. The main concern is to view the process of psychotherapy as an inner journey.
The journey is a metaphor for an intentional way a person apprehends or holds the total span of his/her lived experiences. Imagine you were to take trip, but you didn’t plan out your destination; you just started walking and attending to the discoveries along the way. Now, imagine you got over the anxiety of not being in control, not having a map, and soon after that you found a path you never before realized had been there. And as you continue down this new path, you discover things about yourself – strengths and weaknesses – you had not let yourself know before. And, to your surprise, this feels very rewarding. Actually, finding your true, inner path is more than rewarding; it’s a feeling of deep acceptance and wonder of who you are. On this new life path you discover the wonder and power of who you truly are.
So, you’ve decided to share your new journey with me
I help clients to focus on both their strengths and wounding experiences. I guide clients to identify their inner strengths: the positive characteristics/ traits, along with inner resources like faith, if that is appropriate. I also encourage clients to consider outer resources of friends and family and how they can utilize them.
The part of the process where I help clients to identify inner woundings involves seeing those difficult experiences as critical moments in their lives. Usually these critical events occur in childhood when we make decisions about who we are and our place in the world. These early childhood decisions are based on the limited information of a child. These decisions are like assumptions we make about the way things are. And since we have limited information, these assumptions are almost always faulty and inaccurate. We go about our daily lives never realizing that these faulty assumptions exist in an unconscious way. And, we do not realize the power/influence they have in our lives because we have assumed that’s the way we are, that’s the way life is. But the only power these assumptions have is the meaning we gave them at the moment we made the decision about ourselves. These early decisions are weighted with momentous meaning, and those decisions are permeated with negativity. An example of negative reflections of the self is: there must be something wrong with me or there is something wrong with me being me. We carry these meaning constructs in our unconscious as deeply-held beliefs about ourselves for a long time, sometimes, unfortunately, all our lives. These beliefs create a distorted view of self (self-image) and worldview.
Our inner journey becomes a healing journey when we learn to transform those wounding experiences from old, negative beliefs about self into a new view of self that is positive and healthy. This process is about transformation of meaning. We re-assemble ourselves and put together a new sense of self that is truer to how God made us. And the transformation continues as we integrate the new positive views of self into all aspects of our life – our spiritual/religious beliefs, our relationships, our way of caring for our health, etc. We come to see ourselves differently, as though we were seeing with new eyes – transformed eyes. As clients continue this healing process, they claim more and more areas of living with their new-found truth of who they truly are. And these discoveries lead them along their inner path of wholeness that is characterized by a vital sense of being alive.
The above process describes the scope of healing and transformation, which I also describe as Integrative Personal Change. The process begins as the client learns to listen or attend to the heart. I give suggestions for how to listen to one’s heart in my blog of December 4, 2014, Finding Hope When Chronic Illness Happens Part II. I help the person to move out of the head and into the realm of experience by working from the heart. This method involves being gentle and creative with oneself in order to develop a reflective attitude toward one’s experiences.
This process teaches clients to draw from their own wells and to discover the deep truth – the unique wisdom of the heart – about who they truly are and how their life does have purpose. Another way of saying this is that the whole of their life rests in the heart of God. If the client does not believe in God, I put this in language that is consonant with what he/she considers to be Ultimate Truth. Usually, the client has not known before counseling that an essential part of his/her personal truth has to do with her real, personal power. The person just had not tapped his/her well. And, as the client’s truth unfolds, he/she gains the courage and strength to reshape or re-frame the wounding experiences. And, as I discussed above, I guide the person in integrating the newly signified experiences into a new, positive understanding of self.
Often, when I help clients to identify their strengths and personal resources, they learn how to signify the importance of their strengths that have lain in the background. Together, we draw them out from the background into the foreground of awareness to be utilized as assets which enhance the quality of their lives. Much of the time the strength and resource has been their faith. I am sensitive to how clients use spiritual language or their lack of it. I am also sensitive to their negative associations with religious practices. Whether or not people use religious language to construct a way of looking at life, every person does have a worldview or meaning system. This worldview is often expressed in the way people construct reality through their values and priorities in life. Having a sensitivity to how people draw meaning from their existing worldview, allows me to help them integrate a new understanding of self and recompose a healthy sense of self that will bring depth and richness to their lives.