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Why then is care of the psyche something that does not command as much respect and pride as care of the soul, the body, and the mind? I think it is because psychotherapy takes us into the vulnerable and volatile landscape of our emotions—an area our culture generally dismisses as inferior to the landscape of the mind. Feelings—be they of love or anger or passion or sorrow—are relegated to the domains of sentimental poets or hysterical women or hot-tempered people who live in south-of-the-border climates. Everyone else, it seems, would be wise to veer away from the labyrinthine landscape of the heart. Psychotherapy takes us into the labyrinth. It opens doors to houses that hold subjects like childhood and family, marriage and sex, power and passion. One could get stuck in houses like those—held hostage by ghosts and demons, forced to reveal shameful secrets by shamans and soothsayers. Psychotherapy awakens the Sleeping Giants bedded down in our heart's history. And the Sleeping Giants have stories to tell.

It may not seem wise at all to awaken the Giants. There is a certain logic in not picking scabs off childhood wounds. It may seem prudent to leave unexamined our current dissatisfactions, deadness, or unfelt feelings. Our lives may be hanging too close to the edge: Move one little pebble and a landslide could bring everything down. Isn't there too much at stake? The job, the family, the marriage, the complex layers of daily life? Better to keep to the known path—one false move and the pebble dislodges, the cliffside disappears.

What I learned in the safe and sacred room of my therapist's office was that the same energy I was exerting to keep things from being revealed could be used for a far more exciting and rewarding struggle: to return my soul to my body, to return myself to myself. After that, anything would be possible. And when I finally could bring my whole self—including my rich, wild, tender, and powerful emotions—into meditation and other spiritual practices, I was better able to understand and integrate what had seemed out of reach before. The combination of meditation and psychotherapy became for me a potent brew for transforming trials into revelations.

There are many forms of psychotherapy for a wide variety of psychological issues. Some people come to therapy because they feel too much, others because they feel nothing at all. Some people enter into psychotherapeutic work to bolster a weak sense of self, others because their powerful ego overshadows their ability to have loving relationships. All come to develop what is called "emotional intelligence."

Some people respond best to traditional psychoanalysis, done under the guidance of a psychiatrist. Other people love Jungian analysis because of its focus on dreams and the mythic dimensions of life. During the twentieth century, pioneering schools of psychology sprang up in America, creating a Renaissance-like revolution in the field. There are far too many kinds of therapy—including talk therapy, body-centered therapy, family therapy, and art therapy—for me to discuss them all here. For the vast majority of people interested in pursuing psychotherapy, talk therapy with a wise and responsible therapist is the most effective method. But some people—especially those with specific issues, like sexual abuse, addiction problems, and serious depression—are in need of other forms of therapy.
Excerpted from BROKEN OPEN: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser. © 2004 by Elizabeth Lesser. Reprinted by arrangement with the Random House Publishing Group.  

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