MEANING AND RELATIONSHIP: THE HEART OF THE THERAPEUTIC PROCESS

by Dr. Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D.

CONTACT DR. EDMUNDS

The soul needs to be returned to today's mental health profession. For some time the mainstream has taught a disease model where difficulties in our children are blamed upon the child's dysfunctional brain and upon 'chemical imbalances'. The mental health profession has lost sight of the incorporation of spirituality and the importance of empathy and compassion in directing the treatment of children who are experiencing emotional disturbances. Psychiatrist David Kaiser comments, "modern psychiatry has yet to convincingly prove the genetic/biologic cause of any single mental illness...Patients have been diagnosed with 'chemical imbalances' despite the fact that no test exists to support such a claim, and there is no real conception of what a correct chemical balance would look like. (Kaiser, 1996). Children need to be able to find meaning in their lives and a proper therapeutic model must incorporate this key element. Breggin comments, "Increasingly, in North America, our children are being raised without any substantial context in which they can be taught values. Parents too often have neither time nor interest. On occassion, they even doubt their right to 'impose their own values' on their children...Our children cannot thrive without meaningful moral and spiritual concepts. They crave the satisfaction of exercising their critical intelligence. They want to find enduring truths with which to replace the superficial values they see all around them. Without adults who offer something better, our children are likely to end up filling their midns with readily available pop culture and peer values...We may differ among ourselves about the ultimate meaning of life, or about the nature or existence of God, but there seems little doubt that our society fails to provide many children with a coherent, life affirming philosophy" (Breggin, 2000). By this, individuals must facilitate the awakening of children and their families to develop meaning for themselves. Within the mental health profession there has been the use of various metaphors to describe our children. Those such as Paul Wender, MD compare children labeled as ADHD to King Kong. He views them as destructive and unable to be controlled. On the other end, we have the viewpoint of John Breeding who describes children as needing to be seen 'through the eyes of delight.'

The common model of teaching within graduate counseling programs today is more focused on presentation and absorption of information and the students ability to master the information through testing. There is some opportunities for independent thought and exploration. But what is sorely lacking from the graduate study experience is the incorporation of and instruction in the important virtues of compassion and empathy which are so crucial to a successful therapeutic rapport. Today's mental health professionals in regards to the issue of psychiatric drugging are hearing mainly from biopsychiatry sources. There is basically nothing in the way of spirituality being incorporated into the mental health profession today.In order to truly be effective as psychotherapists, it is necessary to return the soul to psychotherapy, as psychotherapy in itself means the healing of the soul. Children and adults as well in order to attain emotional healing need the ability to find meaning in their lives, to be able to grasp on to something which will provide them answers in times of despair. The current trend in the mental health profession does not provide this crucial need. Dr. Peter Breggin, MD comments, " We may differ among ourselves about the ultimate meaning of life, or about the nature or existence of God, but there seems little doubt that our society fails to provide many children with a coherent, life- affirming philosophy. (Breggin, 2000) It seems many mental health professionals are afraid to discuss issues of spirituality with their clients as they believe this to be a 'touchy subject' and quite likely one that the therapist does not feel competent in dealing with. People are asking questions from deep within the heart. They want to know where God is in their time of crisis. They want to know how one feels and expresses the love of God, and how God is able to mend hurts and pains. Often spirituality when it has been discussed in the mental health realm has been 'warm and fuzzy' but it has not answered the questions that the people are asking (Vogel, pg. 104). Spirituality must be discussed in a way that it is real to life, that it incorporates experience, and can actually touch an individual and help them to develop meaning.

I came across an important story related by the Chinese teacher Chuang Tzu that gives an important spiritual lesson in how one can relate to children. He speaks, " Old Camelback was a highly successful gardener. People wanted to know the secret of his success, but he denied having any particular method other than fostering the natural tendecies, that is, forwarding life. He said, 'In planting trees, be careful to set the roots straight, to smooth the earth around, to use good mould and to ram it down well. Then, don't touch the trees, don't think about them, don't go and look at them, but leave them alone to take care of themselves and nature will do the rest. I only avoid trying to make trees grow- others are forever running backwards and forwards to see how they are growing, sometimes scratching them to make sure they are still alive., or shaking them to see if they are sufficiently firm in the ground, thus constantly interfering with the natural bias of the tree and turning their affection and care into absolute bane and curse. I only don't do these things. That's all. (Breeding, 1996)." In this we are told that parenting requires us to prepare our children for success, but we must exercise a different approach, allowing them to grow. Those who must constantly interfere in the growth and exploration of the child actually do more harm and cause the child to become resentful. This story is an excellent metaphor for encouraging respectful, loving, and affectionate parenting, and allowing our children to develop at their own place and of course with intial guidance, to become who they choose to be.

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I recall a story, a journey of a child that I once worked with in a therapeutic setting. It was necessary for me to join him on his journey, to be empathetic and to gain insight into his past, his present situation, and his vision for the future. It was necessary to provide a vision of hope for the future, so that he could transform the troubles and turmoils that had affected him into a plan that would no longer stifle his growth and keep him in the darkness of despair. This child had experienced divorce and the ripping apart of his family. His brother had not been able to find meaning in his life and went down the path of delinquincy, being removed from the home, this child who I will refer to as Matthew was not able to see his brother for an extended period of time which greatly troubled him. His sister had been adopted out because of the poverty and other factors that was affecting his mother. He knew his adopted sister but saw her on very infrequent occassions. In addition to these troubling situations, Matthew had been sexually abused by a family friend. Matthew was filled with anger, and this reflected in his behavior and his attitudes, at most moments you could see the intense anger, a mask for his pain, that affected Matthew. Matthew had been in the 'system' for some time and had many therapists. I was presented with Matthew and I was told that he had never really opened up on any of these life crises with the past therapists. I found that taking Matthew into the community and allowing him to direct the activity and to express what he felt in his own time was the best plan. I focused on Matthew's strengths and treated him with dignity and understanding, and most of all encouraged him to have hope, to find a sense of meaning that would propel him forward out of the dark gloom he had experienced. I listened intently as he began to share with me his past, and then began a process of assessing his present situation and how he might be able to cope. I served as his emotional coach, not dictacting to him how to feel, what to feel, or when to feel it, but allowing him to merely share his journey and to help him develop a plan for the future. As I stood beside Matthew as a coach, slowly he began a transformation, it was necessary for him to reflect on his past, to bring out the pain. But in this he knew he had someone beside him to comfort and support him, to walk the journey with him towards transformation. I sought to reconnect him with his family and with others around him, so that he no longer would find only chaos, but that he would understand that though his journey took him along a rocky path that he would soon find a smoother path, and that there were times he could stop along the side to gain rest and refreshment. I sought to allow my sessions to be those times where he could gain the refreshment, to revitalize him so that he would have the energy and strength to continue forward and not shut down. It was the second session with Matthew that he already began to share the deep pain and hurt he experienced through the incident of sexual abuse. I could see all the emotions welling up inside him, and as he began to speak of these things which he has really never shared with any other therapist before, I began to feel the need to cry myself. Some in the mental health profession today would argue that it is neceessary to complete detach our own feelings from that of our clients. Indeed, there must be limits, but I have found that the times when therapy was most effective is when I incorporated the concept of to 'suffer with', to share in the journey. 1