Updated: May 23, 2022
So many of us are tossed into the wild waters of life without the chance to take a break and reflect on how to move beyond tending to our wounds and defending against the assaults that continue to come our way. Some of us seek therapy and assume that we will be "healed" or "fixed" by another person wiser or more knowledgeable than ourselves. I can tell you firsthand that after working in the mental health field since 2006, mental health practitioners are just as messed up like everyone else. So what is the point of going to therapy then? To answer this, we need to shift our perspective on healing and what happens in a healing relationship.
How do humans heal?
There are already so many natural mechanisms within our bodies that promote healing the second we cut our skin or break a bone. These mechanisms snap into action immediately because their job is to preserve our life and the systems that sustain it. Our psyche provides this service too however just like the body, the psyche makes decisions that may not be beneficial to us in the long run (e.g. snapping into flight/flight/freeze and then being unable to move out of it and becoming stuck). A therapist will never have more knowledge about your history and experiences and your unique healing than you do. In fact, healing can happen without a therapist's participation but it can't happen without yours. Your body and mind want to heal, they want you to be in the best physical and emotional state possible yet we can get stuck in patterns that don't serve us. Once the patterns are shifted or the obstacles to healing addressed, you will naturally shift toward healing. Healing doesn't always feel good and it can be a long process of ups and downs but your body and mind were designed to be self-healing. A therapist is only useful in how much they can help you harness this innate capability within yourself.
What is the role of a therapist?
A therapist is just a human being, a wounded healer in many ways and we can only take you so far. Most of the journey, you will take on your own. We are there to help shine the light of awareness on parts of yourself that may be hard for you to see. We are there to ask questions to help you dive deeper into your wisdom and bring forth the tools already located within. Your therapist doesn't need to be perfect but they do need to be dedicated to your wellness and to helping you achieve your goals in therapy. A therapist should be honest, humble, and warm. These qualities help build a safe and supportive relationship which is a perfect environment for you to do the work of healing.
Can you heal without a therapist?
Yes. Absolutely, you can heal without a therapist. There are so many alternative healing modalities that you can explore beyond psychotherapy. I see psychotherapy as just one tool that can help you increase your mindful awareness in a safe environment. Yoga, meditation, hiking, support circles, friendships, family, spirituality, travel, rock climbing, etc can all be healing and help you get just as far as therapy would therapy. Therapy is convenient in the sense that the therapeutic relationship is a special relationship dedicated to your psychological healing and this can be incredibly powerful especially if you are struggling. Many of us are not in therapy our whole lives, we gain tools and insight from therapy and then move on.
How can I become a better healer for myself?
Once we truly acknowledge that our body and mind are wise beyond measure and that with mindful awareness, we can better harness our healing capacities, we can start to wonder what type of tools or methods would help us become better self-healers. There is no one answer to this. Joseph Campbell put it well when he said "If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are -- if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time." I interpret this to be mean that we must be living a meaningful/purposeful life in order to fully access the healing tools available to us. There are many techniques such as yoga, mindfulness, community connection, family, traveling, etc that can help us heal but ultimately, we need to live a life of purpose, a life following our bliss. What is your bliss? If you don't know, what can you do to discover it?