Twenty years is not long enough to begin to understand the deeper mysteries of doing psychotherapy. The most essential mystery is the nature of healing. My search for healing is a lifelong pursuit, a matter of faith and a persistent reason to remain humble. Healing is a glimmer of hope and possibility in the briefest of moments. It can spread unseen like a ripple on an underground lake to infuse a person’s entire life.
A healing experience may bowl us over as a sudden revelation or present itself as a strong insistent current that seems to wash away our self-doubt and fill us with a sense of renewal. I have learned to watch, listen and pay attention. I have found evidence of healing in many places, sometimes unexpected:
- A friend I have not seen for several months is depressed. I stop by to find him at his door red eyed and struggling with tears. He tells me bravely that he is an alcoholic. It is a moment of opening for him, and for us.
- I decide to stop trying to change a family member and find that making peace with her is easier than I thought. Why? I finally realize the problem I saw in her, mirrors the same problem within myself.
- A woman realizes she no longer wants to be hurt in an ongoing relationship and experiences self-love.
- A man suddenly realizes not only the suffering but also the nobility of his lifelong avoidance which has protected him from being psychologically destroyed by a childhood of severe mental abuse.
- The mother of a young woman with an eating disorder is consumed by guilt but recognizes that in freeing herself from self-hatred she is also freeing her daughter.
- A person with “bipolar disorder” or “manic depression” moves beyond an understanding of himself as a diagnosis to a recognition that what he struggles with personally is inherently part of our American culture, and therefore something essential to understand about ourselves.
An attempt to comprehend the how, why, and when of healing is like trying to understand God. It is part of our human birthright and paradoxically is transcendent of our humanness. We cannot predict when healing will occur. It may happen whether or not we are consciously thinking about it. It is most likely to occur when we are driven by a deep, if unconscious, desire for healing. It can be realized in the discovery of something deeply resonant within a religious belief, but it is inherent in the universal spiritual experience that transcends all belief systems.
In an extremity of human suffering only maternal hands seem capable of holding the most broken parts of us. At this moment the Goddess will manifest for me, often in the form of the earth-bound Black Madonna the ultimate container of human suffering, the Healer of Last Resort, and the guiding force within the work I do.
I have discovered that healing follows in its own time, sometimes within the therapy sessions approved by insurance, before the first appointment or unrelated to any of the work we are doing. It is larger and more encompassing than anything we know and it is often not covered by health insurance. It is not found on a list of treatment goals in medical or “behavioral health” or chemical dependency treatment plans. It may involve a “cure” or improvement in symptoms, or it may not.
How do we know when we have been healed? We just know. It is an experience that expands our awareness of ourselves and the lives we are living, completing all of our broken connections and making us whole.
What I have learned is always to be present, prepared and expectant of its arrival. To never give up hope. To make available the inner template of my own healing for the use of others to remain open to being healed by my clients; for unlike treatment, healing transforms everything it touches.
I have learned to hold hope for others if they cannot carry it for themselves. I have learned that with healing, attention to process outweighs attention to goals, that wisdom transcends intelligence, that good and evil exist together within each of us and can be reconciled.
I have learned that compassion is everything. And, once again, I have learned humility. Whether doctor or patient, therapist or client, we are all just people united in coping with our human failings and limitations, and in our drive to be whole.
By Louise Dery-Wells, Fall 2005
Louise Dery-Wells, L.I.C.S.W. has practiced spiritual-based psychotherapy for the last 20 years. Louise draws from a strong background not only in traditional mental health, with a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Boston College and postgraduate training, but in Gestalt Therapy and Jungian (Archetypal) psychology most of her adult life. Louise is also a poet, an actress, a community organizer and social activist. She has followed a contemporary shamanic path since childhood, which is the deeper basis of her work and focused on creative approaches to deep healing. She has a private practice in Middleborough.