People often ask what happens in psychotherapy. Sometimes, although more rarely than you might imagine, therapists give good old fashioned advice, and famously, we listen intently. Often we teach skills that people missed in childhood such as how to communicate or manage angry feelings. Therapy involves getting better in touch with your emotions, or helping you to make healthier choices. This kind of assistance you can often get from a loving friend, or self-help books or the Internet.
Sometimes, though, what is needed is help to clean out old rubbish from the past, and this is deeper work you can’t do with an untrained person. Osho, a spiritual teacher, once said that therapists are really people who help you take out your garbage.
One of the analogies I use to explain to patients what is going on is a blister. We’ve all had one: a pocket of fluid underneath the skin which has been caused by repetitive pressure or rubbing. The fluid inside is usually watery, but if it’s been there for a long time untreated and become infected, can be filled with pus or blood. To treat it, we carefully make a tiny puncture and drain the infected part, relieving the pressure and thereby allowing the healing process to begin.
This is an analogy for how material from the past - unexpressed emotions, outrage, sense of injustice, fear - can be trapped inside, while a protective covering has grown over to protect it. Therapy can be like this: we drain the old toxic material that has built up, thereby relieving the pressure and allowing the healing to begin.
The second analogy I use is to explain the therapy process is a teakettle. You’ve seen one that is all hot and bothered, steam jetting out the sides. People with a lot of repressed material inside can get like this, spewing out all over the place. The “steam” tends to come out crooked, such as getting mad when you didn’t mean to, or acting in ways that surprise you, and not in a good way. The material leaks out from the inside because the pressure has built up too much and we need to work to relieve the pressure. In therapy we get the “heat” down to a normal level so that we can sit and enjoy a cup of tea.
If you get with the right therapist and complete this work, you will agree that it was worth the commitment because of your new sense of freedom from the past. It is a joy to go through life without “blisters” or without the pressure of sitting on a hot stove.
© 2011 Catherine Auman
Catherine Auman, MFT is a spiritual psychotherapist and the Director of The Transpersonal Counseling Center in Los Angeles, California. She has advanced training in both traditional psychology as well as the wisdom traditions. Please visit her online at www.catherineauman.com