Well of Grace
Spiritual Direction & Relationship Counseling
Scottish psychiatrist Dr. R.D. Laing wrote: "Psychotherapy must remain an obstinate attempt of two people to arrive at a re-covery of the wholeness of being human through the relationship between them." In pastoral psychotherapy, this becomes an intentionally three way conversation between those two people and the welcomed presence of Jesus Christ through His Holy Spirit. The art of the therapist is to create a truly safe and harmless space where deep relaxation, curiosity and honesty are supported by relating with skillful ease, candidness and genuine compassion. When this happens, the experience of our deeply shared humanness allows us to connect beyond our aching defenses with the Source of eternal love and healing.
At its best, therapy can become an experience of communion, a conscious experience of the love and presence of God in and with us right in the midst of our very human struggles. Here, the patient/client/seeker is recognized as a unique person-to-be-welcomed, and not an object-to-be-tinkered with. This sort of therapy is “sacred”, in the original sense of the word — It’s a protected space that we “set apart for a holy purpose” — to then gently look together at our real experiences of life and the people around us and what those experiences have meant to us. We can both sit back deeply and explore the terrain of feelings and thoughts and experiences together with no need to change anything in this moment. This stopping and resting in the truth of our experience is our invitation to Spirit to inhabit those experiences with us and for us to notice the transformation that is already underway in us and between us.
Some people seek pastoral psychotherapy to find warm, skillful human connection and a consciously Christian approach to their life and its challenges. Others want to simply explore their life in reference to their own unique experience of faith and have a wise companion who can support them and hold space for reflection. Still others come, not because they are Christian or even consciously spiritual but because they are drawn to the grounded loving-kindness and experience of grace, non-judgment and non-shaming that forms this relational container for personal transformation.
Anton Boison, the founder of Clinical Pastoral Education wrote: "I have sought to begin not with the ready-made formulations contained in books but with the living human documents and with actual social conditions in all their complexity." Pastoral psychotherapy honours our humanity and our actual lived experiences before it presumes to deliver spiritual prescriptions. Often the way forward is shown only as we walk the path together, trusting the wealth of wisdom available to us in scripture and the everpresence of the Holy Spirit and the everyday miracle of authentic, loving human relationship. Instead of prescriptions, in therapy we struggle with descriptions, knowing that when we can articulate our actual experience to a trusted other, when we can be precise and accurate, everything shifts, a veil lifts and understanding deepens.
Healing is one of many English words like whole, hale (and hearty), health, and holy that developed from the Indo-European root word kailo. True healing and true holiness are both about allowing the whole of our experience to be integrated, to live without hiding parts of ourselves away as unlovable and unredeemable. To allow everything in us that needs a voice to be allowed to speak. To see and be seen. To allow God to love all parts of us without shame. To experience profound wellness in body, mind, spirit and relationships. God the Holy Spirit is God the Healthy Spirit.
The concept of mental illness, though common, is unhelpful in understanding the difficulties many people have relating to self, others and God. Modern psychiatry posits mental illnesses as verifiable medical disorders that result from chemical imbalances in the brain that yield to pharmacological cures. But our difficulties in living — our fears, depressions and anxieties — are personal, intimate and delicate. They come to us by way of the deprivations and traumas we experience in early life by others who had power over us. These hurts become compounded as we inevitably remake our view of ourselves and our way of being in the world to fit the warped picture that trauma has painted us over with. Our emotional difficulties are not a sign of illness. They are a sign that healing is already taking place deep in the psyche which is allowing the pain of the past to resurface so it can be clearly seen and perhaps grieved, reconsidered and integrated. Because trauma is inflicted relationally, in the we-space we occupy with other people, it is also healed relationally. Our sufferings are not character failings. No one suffers who was not harmed in some way.
Pastoral therapists are also in an ideal position to deal with trauma that is overtly spiritual in nature. Many people have been raised in such a way that their relationship with God and their sense of their own place in the world has been damaged by frightening religious views, human betrayal and hypocrisy and distorted portrayals of the spiritual world. An overemphasis on personal sin to the extent that it functionally denies the grace of God in one’s life is common. An inability to rest in the saving and keeping power of Christ can be complicated by both our relationships with our early caregivers and by notions about holiness that are based on punishment and obligation rather than grace and love.
Because I have been trained in theology as well as psychotherapy I can help people make fine distinctions for themselves between helpful and unhelpful expressions of faith and theology and doctrine. I can help you to feel into where your spiritual beliefs are supporting your health and well being and where they feel like they are creating problems for you.
Our relationship with our intimate others is the matrix for our deepest joys and our most hideous heartbreak in life. Our deepest most ingrained ways of relating to the world come directly from our formative experiences of the world in our families of origin. When those experiences are deeply supportive and “true to the grain of our own wood”, we grew up able to feel secure, loved and loving. When our early environment was littered with uncertainty and betrayal, we might find our life repeating early difficult patterns in order to bring this pain to consciousness. When this can be clearly seen and shared in a relationship of warmth, caring and authenticity with a trusted person, we become able to grieve, heal and perhaps come to a level of mastery over the trauma that we suffered. Becoming aware of the forces and people and experiences that have formed us enables us to find again the true shape of our lives and to create a new environment that deeply supports us and the new life that blossoms in us in Christ.
“Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
~ John 4:14
“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
~ John 8:32