Health & Medical Self-Improvement

Psychotherapy Heresy: Part 2 - The Art of Being With Another

The activity of truly being with another is not the exclusive domain of so-called experts -- psychoanalysts, psychotherapists, counselors and assorted health professionals.
It is an innate ability of human beings to empathize and give attention to each other.
This ability has been largely eclipsed in the modern world in which our personal concerns and mental chatter often absorb most of our attention.
The true meaning of psychotherapy is 'attending to soul' and this is an activity we can all offer each other.
The art of being with another can be practiced through developing the innate tools you already possess in abundance: listening, caring, kindness.
Out of your natural wisdom you have the ability to attend to soul -- your own and another's.
We live in a time when inner riches and innate wisdom have become ignored and discredited.
We have learnt to hand over our natural healing abilities to outward authorities: organizations and 'experts', who are very often people who know no better than us.
People need to speak and be heard for physical and mental health, and individual well-being.
This arena is not innately the exclusive domain of experts.
It is a natural skill of all people to be with one another and to practice giving and receiving.
It is a prerequisite of friendship, relationship and intimacy.
Without it we feel separate and alienated.
Today, we are more in need of counseling and therapy skills than ever.
The pace and pressures of the modern world have reached such an intensity that only a person who is willing and prepared to compromise their integrity and inner well-being can be expected to function, let alone be relaxed, aware and happy.
If we cannot find someone who is willing and able to listen to us, then we are in danger of either ignoring what is going on in our lives, or putting ourselves in the hands of professionals who have an agenda, which is usually prescribed by the government of the country on which the service provided is funded and to which it owes its existence.
The values that the service is usually based on are functionality and efficiency.
To return a person to efficient functioning in their place of work, so that they can be considered a valid member of society, is most likely to be the overriding goal.
The individual well-being, spiritual development and personal growth of the individual are ignored, as if they were of no consequence.
Occasionally an apologetic gesture is made; perhaps there is not enough funding for depth counseling, because resources are stretched.
But funding is allotted to issues which are considered more important and consequently prioritized.
In the modern world we may dispute those issues which are given priority by the people in power who profess to be acting on our behalf.
Quite apart from the morality of this approach, it is not even sensible given that most people's presenting problems (or what appears to be 'wrong' with them) are merely at the top of a pile of deeper issues.
By definition these deeper issues may remain buried deep inside, but they will not go away.
They will reappear repeatedly in one form or another, pleading to be dealt with.
Thus we have health authorities collapsing under the weight of referrals for disease, surgery and psychosomatic symptoms, which consultants are often unable to explain, or treat effectively.
The deep, underlying cause of illness is ignored.
Indeed the question is not even asked, since the concept of an emotional, spiritual or holistic cause or basis for physical illness is not considered.
Surgery or medication often lead to further expensive treatments for patients who find themselves on a treadmill of specialist hospital appointments with well-meaning but not necessarily wise medical practitioners.
Doctors are sometimes complacent.
Routinely seeing people at their most vulnerable they may be forgiven for feeling superior.
But acting superior and taking advantage of the unequal situation to routinely abuse the trust of patients and exhibit sexist, patriarchal and prejudiced tendencies may be less easily forgiven.
Psychotherapists, psychiatrists, medical practitioners, social workers, mental nurses and counselors are people too, with their own personal problems and difficulties.
It is not so much being free of problems that make you a good listener who is able to help another.
It is the ability to be aware of the problems you have in your own life and the skill to deal with them wisely by not allowing them to claim your time and emotional space at inappropriate times.
In the contemporary world many, if not most, people could use someone who can really listen to them, who can really make the kind of psychic space in which another can enter.
Yet they may never be prepared to admit that they need help or seek out a 'professional'.
They may not feel they deserve to spend money on themselves for something as intangible to them as their own well-being.
They may have little confidence that a 'professional' could help them (often with good reason) and they may be put off by the stigma our modern world puts on people who seek help, labeling them neurotic, low-functioning, depressive and dysfunctional.
Curiously, the vocabulary for human pathology far outweighs the vocabulary for well-being.
We seem to be satisfied with a wide and varied lexicon for the things that are wrong with us, while ignoring the range of positive states and not even granting them a description.
The words used in a culture set the tone for its consciousness.
What does it say about the western world that we have multiple descriptions of mental disease in thick text books but not more than a few, often bland, expressions for positive mental health? The art of being with another, attending to soul with care, compassion and kindness has a double payoff.
As listeners we become more calm, peaceful and inwardly balanced.
Through tolerating another's distress we learn to highlight the inner strengths that we can use to deal more effectively with our own personal issues.
When we dedicate ourselves to helping and encouraging people to develop their natural healing abilities and skills through listening, self-awareness and being with people and listening to them with receptivity, understanding and wisdom, we create a healthy, healing cycle.

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