This is a phrase I’m hearing more and more recently, not from professionals, but from struggling people being given short term therapeutic interventions that just don’t work for them.
Many years ago, partly through my own training as a psychotherapist and partly through retrospective learning around my own journey, I became aware of the notion that failed therapy can be more damaging than no therapy at all. If a person repeatedly accesses therapy but doesn’t feel better, they develop the idea that they are beyond help – this is very damaging and simply untrue. It’s my belief that most people who have experienced this, haven’t been given access to appropriate therapy.
I read and listen to some great thought leaders of our time like Wayne Dyer, Abraham Hicks and Louise Hay and I heard an analogy with a very specific approach to self-healing based on the following metaphor: they describe the journey of life as being like a car journey, you get into your vehicle and set off in a direction but somewhere along the way you find yourself lost. Your car has a satnav and at this point you have two options: you either retrace your steps all the way home in order to establish where you went wrong OR you reset your satnav and move straight forward from where you are. They assert that the former is pointless and that it doesn’t matter how you got where you got to, you can simply move forward and change your life from this point.
Now I get this, it makes logical sense I guess, you can’t change the past after all. I also subscribe to unleashing from the past at some point and carving out a deliberate path forward. Though there are problems with this approach when a person is given this direction when they are not ready for it.
In all honesty I am yet to meet a struggling individual ready to carve out a new path without first understanding the road already travelled.
Here are some strong arguments for travelling home first.
In my experience, when a person feels stuck where they are, they are often frustrated, not only with thelr circumstances but with themselves. They are often experiencing a heavy sense of guilt or shame around being in their current position, and this makes it almost impossible to let go of. Travelling home gives a person the opportunity to understand themselves, the decisions they’ve made, and the direction they’ve taken. Travelling home almost always reveals a multitude of experiences that led to a person’s survival instincts to kick in – and these experiences can seem surprisingly insignificant until properly examined. Travelling home almost always reveals younger versions of self that got stuck in fear along the way, and the survival behaviours have carried forward into the present. In witnessing these parts of self and the experiences that led to the current condition, a person is much more able to find some self-acceptance and forgiveness in their present reality.
The biggest breakthroughs I have witnessed in therapy, have come through thoroughly understanding the present reality through a deeply compassionate awareness of the road travelled thus far. When people can truly see and understand that they are innately good AND also wired to survive, which means they will behave in defensive ways if threatened, I see them begin to forgive themselves for their current condition and this opens the door for a totally different future. These discoveries are amongst the most exciting parts of my work! But let’s be clear, this rarely happens in 6 sessions and never happens without permission to travel home.
Returning to our earlier analogy, and for this moment putting to one side my personal frustrations around the lack of provision when it comes to good, appropriate, and contextual therapy, l’m an advocate of both short-term present to future focussed work AND longer-term past to present to future focussed work when it comes to psychotherapy. My issue is not with either approach to well-being and personal development, my issue is with inappropriate interventions being offered to people simply because it’s all that’s available. This is what leads to people feeling they are beyond help and this needs to change.
If you are someone that is stuck right now, feeling desperate and believing yourself to be beyond help – you are not alone and you are not beyond help. You probably haven’t experienced the right type of therapy yet and it will be out there!
We are brilliant, complicated beings so let’s not assume we can throw simple answers at our complex struggles and come out on top.
My next blog will talk more on the power of self-compassion inspired by my personal journey, professional practice and the great work of Louise Hay. I hope you’ll tune in.
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