I’d like to tell you about an early therapy experience that shaped my entire approach to individual therapy.
One of my earliest individual therapy clients was a distraught young woman who came into the Stress Management Clinic experiencing a very painful headache. She was a college senior, nearing the graduation mark, when just at the last few weeks of school, her headache appeared.
She had been an A-student all through school. But at the moment, she couldn’t study, couldn’t write her last papers, couldn’t prepare for final exams. The clock was ticking, and she was scared.
I said something to her that sounded, at first, completely nuts. I said, “Let’s suppose some part of you has it’s own good reason for giving you this headache. Close your eyes, and ask that part of you to let you know what that reason is.”
Based on the look she gave me, she did wonder if I might be off my rocker, but she closed her eyes anyway. And in just a couple of moments later, her eyes opened wide in amazement!
The part of my client giving her that headache showed her a little girl’s memory of climbing the tree at the end of her family’s driveway to wait for her father’s return from work. She would be so pleased to see him! And he would be so pleased to see her accomplishment of tree climbing! Or so she thought.
But when her father saw her up in the tree, he shouted at her to come down. He spoke sharply to her, something like, “Get down here now! Girls don’t climb trees!” The part of her that didn’t want to lose her father’s love made sure that she never climbed another tree.
This bright college senior immediately understood what her headache was all about. She understood that she really didn’t need to fear losing love when “climbing up in the world.” She dropped into my office a couple weeks later to tell me she had passed her final exams with flying colors — and she was now a college graduate!
I give her all the credit. She took her insight and ran with it. All I had done was apply a way of thinking about the human mind I had recently learned. That way of thinking turned out to be revolutionary. Transformative. Healing.
Anxiety, depression, anger issues, tension and stress, products of trauma, abuse, early life difficulties — mental and emotional symptoms of all kinds. We think of those parts of ourselves causing us symptoms as our enemies. We want to get rid of such parts. And obviously that makes sense; we are suffering. But the truth is, those symptoms are products of fights we are having with ourselves, and if we continue to fight, the fights will go on and on.
But the astonishing thing is, when we change the way we relate to our inner parts, learn what they are trying to do for us, treat them as friends and collaborators, they will lead us to our inner treasure, to healing and integration. It’s the golden key: changing the way we relate to our selves can heal us and change our lives.