Being disrupted is a blessing

When one begins psychotherapy, she is invited to an incredible journey. A journey in which the reality of what happens in the therapist's office becomes relevant in unpredictable ways. During our contemporary era of quick fixes and short-term solutions, little attention is given to the relationship between therapist and patient. Obviously held by clear and defined boundaries, the therapeutic relationship unfolds to a somewhat surprising territory of old fears, desires and losses.

Amazing is to realize that once they start a therapeutic process, patients are invariably faced with dilemmas of how they relate to others, including how they relate to the therapist - in the office, outside the office, in their dreams and throughout their conversations. Through this almost fake-created reality, they start to realize that their reality lands over, and they starts to just interact with the characters of their dreams in the therapist office in a similar and yet painful repetition of some of most deep dilemmas of their interpersonal life.

The therapeutic relationship actually matters. As the therapy enfolds, patients realize that they have thoughts, ideas, feelings and reactions towards their therapists. Any psychotherapy will necessarily lead to that - the difference relies on how the therapist decides to approach such phenomena. It is actually extremely interesting to realize how those reactions became a meaningful and unique way in which communication between therapist and patient may happen. If therapist is open to explore those, patients come to realize that there are powerful similarities between how patient experiences the therapist and how patient experiences her interpersonal relationships outside the therapy. As this happens, patients gain increased awareness on their emotional life, including becoming more able to negotiate relationships in general.

On another note, patients are also necessarily faced with a myriad ways in which they expect the therapist to just always be - the same, there, without interruption, without intrusion, without exclusion. And then, how dare therapist introduce something new? a new element, a thought, some change, some yet unexpected presence in the patient's play, creating an unbalance that looks for further understanding?

Disruption is what moves life and also what moves the therapeutic process. It is because we are disrupted in our repeated ways of relating that we realize there must be something new, something waiting to be created or simply found. Psychotherapy is about being disrupted, being shaken and awaken, being in touch with pregnant silences of the mind only to find new ways to connect with others. Only then, the therapeutic relationship becomes the meaningful space of imprinting old brushstrokes in the hope of finding the uniqueness of a new painting.

Being possessed and letting go

I have been working with haunted people for quite a while. They are haunted by ghosts of their past experiences, ghosts that insist on coming back in indirect ways. They may show up in dreams (or nightmares); in ways that people feel stuck in old patterns; in fears that cannot be described; in waves of repetition that people feel entangled in. Being haunted by ghosts is something that we may all know at some level - ghosts of our past that keep intruding in our current life through our dreams, thoughts or sometimes in the way we just attend to our emotional life. I see people who have different ways to try to keep them quiet; different ways to not engage. They fear the moment when ghosts may come back, only to find them every day as memories that cannot be remembered. 

Past ghosts haunt people they have the countless somatic symptoms that medical doctors cannot find the cause for. Our body becomes the house of our inner ghosts, which speak in a silent voice. How to exorcise those ghosts, let them rest in peace, without agonizing further? How to engage, to invite them in, to face them in order to let them pass by?

We are taught to just ignore them, to not think about emotional pain not only because it means weakness but also because we fear it could be potentially dangerous. We fear their ghost-like quality, the haunting sounds through which the past infuses the present. My patients worry that they would be engulfed; or loose themselves in their struggles, or not recover from the isolation, fear, and depression. They walk around pretending not feeling anything, faking smiles when life feels complicated. Ghosts feed on their attempt to not pay attention, becoming stronger and more powerful. They start haunting, leading to powerlessness, confusion and fear.

I see haunted people constantly in my clinical practice. They are haunted by things they don't usually understand, or things that are too overwhelming to be known. Past trauma, loss, violence, neglect.. psychotherapy is an invitation for ghosts. We create a scene in which they inevitably show up. Gently, we engage with them in a curious way. We approach them with humility. As we learn more about them, we can finally have enough courage to ask: what are you here for?

As a psychotherapist, I invite ghosts in and stay present while they show up. And then, as their endless complain is heard, they gradually don't need to haunt anymore. When we find words to address the pain that my patients silently believed they were not feeling, ghosts can let go in order to become memories. They can finally be forgotten. They find a home and come to terms with the past, resting in peace.