“You know, people come to therapy really for blessing. Not so much to fix what’s broken, but to get what’s broken blessed.” ~James Hillman
I saw this quote this morning and it echoes with the truth of what I know as someone who sits with and holds space for just such a miraculous experience to occur.
I’ve been a therapist in one form or another since 1979 when I immersed myself in training and service at a counseling center in Glassboro, NJ. It was called Together, Inc. and it is where I ‘cut my teeth’ on ground level, grass roots, basic, Psychology 101 counseling. Active Listening was the central focus of the skill sets we brought to the sessions. All these years later, I think of it as ‘listening with the ears of the heart.’ and being a reflective pond or mirror for the one who is speaking.
It was a combined 24 hour crisis hotline, youth shelter, women’s program and rape crisis program. It was staffed by folks who had graduated from Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) and/or were in the psych or sociology tracks there. We came from a strengths based perspective that shone the light on not only what wasn’t working in the person’s life, but what they had going for them. My view was that is was also an ideal (for myself at least) petri dish for growing awareness, expansion and deepening internal exploration for the counselors. Since I have found that we teach what we need to learn, I gathered a wealth of information and experience in that setting and from working in the trenches there, remain close to my friends who shared the experience.
The next evolutionary leap occurred in the early 80’s between college and grad school when I (and I’m not sure how this door was opened) worked for The South Jersey Council on Alcoholism, providing education for teachers on the subject of drug and alcohol abuse prevention so that they in turn, could pass the information on to their students. We also supported the S.O.B.E.R (Slow on the bottle, enjoy the road) campaign. Back then, I was a young, rather inexperienced presenter, using cue cards and feeling pretty awkward in front of groups. I was paired with a slightly older (maybe mid 30-something) counselor from Catholic Social Services who seemed polished and professional and infinitely more at ease when he spoke to the teachers. When I asked him how he did it, his response was simple: “Stories. When you have stories to share, it will seem so much easier.” That explanation satisfied me and helped me to feel less broken, as if there was nothing wrong with me for not being as articulate as this man who had been in the field far longer than I had. All these years later, I wish I could find him and thank him for that kindness and tell him that public speaking is one of my greatest joys and passions and that I finally have plenty of stories to share.
I have since worked in both inpatient and outpatient settings with folks who sometimes feel broken beyond repair. Wounded by the anger of others, wounded by their own inner demons, wounded by the subsequent choices they have made; they imagine that they will never heal. It is then that I need to go inside and be aware of the places within myself that have felt that way and called out for understanding and acceptance and a healing balm to be spread on them. It is like pouring Holy Water on the boo boos that have accumulated over the years. When I am present with my clients, I am able to bridge that sometimes seemingly impassable chasm between themselves and their spiritual Source. These days, one of my hats is that of a therapist in drug and alcohol treatment program called Rehab After Work. There I serve folks in recovery from various addictions. In that setting, spirituality is a common topic for discussion since many go to AA and NA meetings in which the concept of Higher Power or the God of Our Understanding is part of the vernacular. Since I am also an ordained interfaith minister, it seems natural to incorporate whatever spiritual beliefs they have (I don’t impose mine) into the therapeutic process. The other day it occurred to me that HP can also stand for Higher Perspective since my sense is that tapping into God-essence can help us see the bigger picture. Reframing ‘broken’ to ‘broken open’ can provide the blessing that can allow for more love and more light to enter the cracks.
“Maybe where the heart breaks in two, that’s the only place Grace can get through and find you.” David Wilcox
http://youtu.be/XJz6ZLtJpA0 In the Broken Places by David Wilcox
www.kaizenlifecoach.com/listening_skills.html for one source of information about Active Listening skills