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What is Therapy?

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Trevor Silvester

Winter 2016

What is Therapy: A personal view


If you’d asked me this question in the first five years of my practice, I’d have answered that it was a process to help people let go of their problems. Because, if you watch therapists, by and large, that’s what they appear engaged in. A day can be filled with a stream of anxieties, fears, phobias and limitations. Clients arrive looking for your help in overcoming something they feel they can’t do for themselves. For help in gaining more control over an area of their life. If we work well together, they leave with what they came for. Job done.

As someone who thinks of himself as a brief therapist, it’s easy to reduce my work down into these small parcels. It’s even easier if you’re a therapist who’s chosen to specialise in dealing with a particular label, like smoking cessation, weight loss or phobias. It’s certainly the mindset most clients enter therapy with. They want something specific ‘fixed’. And that’s fine, Cognitive Hypnotherapists can help you with most things that bother your head and it’s good and honourable work.

But as I grew more experienced, I began to recognize that often solving one problem led to a greater one.

As people learned that it was possible to gain control over one aspect of their life they previously felt was uncontrollable, it began to raise the possibility of greater possibilities. If they could change this one thing about them, what else could change? If they pursued that curiosity strongly enough, we eventually come to, ‘what do I want to do with my life, if I now believe anything is possible?’. That’s a much bigger problem to solve.

Therapy as philosophy

Helping them find the answer to that question is now the ultimate purpose of therapy for me and is part of an old tradition. We’re engaged in philosophy. The ancient Greeks used that word to describe, not the dry exploration of abstract concepts, but something more dynamic and ‘real world’. It was about finding the best way of living. A philosopher was someone who lived their version of their best life. Their ‘philosophy’.

My therapy is engaged in that same pursuit. And it comes in two stages. The first is the clearing away of the mental obstacles that hold us back from already living the life we would most like to. If I could wave a magic wand today and rid you of all fear of failure and all fear of others people’s opinion, what would you do that you currently aren’t? Think about that. In Cognitive Hypnotherapy, we have many techniques to help with that clearance. To get rid of the unnecessary protective behaviours our unconscious develops to defend us against how we feel about ourselves and how we feel others view us. That’s what usually brings most people to our door. This first step is about pushing back against a problem that only really exists in our own heads. And some clients will stop there. And so do many therapists. But to me, that’s when it gets REALLY interesting.

As these obstacles clear, a new path of possibilities opens up before us. It always involves change. Sometimes scary change. We lose things – and people – as we dare to take the early steps away from our old life and into the new.

It might involve a new career path, but ultimately – at what I consider its highest form – therapy becomes a search for meaning. “What am I here to do?” “What is my purpose?” “What do I seek?”

Having a purpose is what you seek, but, really, seeking IS your purpose

The answer is unique to each of us, and truthfully, the answer isn’t as important as the seeking. Our purpose could change on a daily basis, it’s the seeking that makes us grow. I believe we are all creative beings, and that that is our purpose; to make our lives a creative act. To create ourselves in the form that gives most meaning to us. And it’s hard, because that is not what we’re educated into, or what society will value. And yet, the ancients told us this was our path. Rumi said, “You have a duty to perform. Do anything else, do a number of things, occupy your time fully, and yet, if you do not do this task, all your time will have been wasted.”

What duty?

To wake from the life that you’ve been led to believe is the one you should be living, and make an authentic choice. To live what you believe is your purpose.

Therapy is a vehicle to help you manoeuvre along that path. You have to give yourself wholeheartedly to this new path and take the consequences of the turbulence it causes others as they sleepwalk along the path mapped out for them toward their grave.

Following this road less travelled will only make you popular with people on a similar journey. Others may reject you.

And yet, you must still do it. As Rumi also advised, “Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.” Because this is a journey of love. Love for yourself, love for your successes, love for your failures, love for those who support you and love for those who try to drag you back (because we’re all fellow strugglers). Love for your life.

So, as the early stages of therapy drag away the barriers of doubt and fear, we progress to something less therapy-like, and more toward what some might call coaching. I begin to support people in discovering they already have everything they need for their journey. I move them towards what we call a position of ILOC, which means having an internal locus of control. They start choosing their response to others. They start making themselves responsible for how they feel, for what is working in their life, and what is not. It involves letting go of blaming others, of victimhood. You realize your own power.

John Donne famously wrote “No man is an island”. Let me gently suggest that he’s wrong. We are all islands. We’re all complete. We don’t ‘need’ things or the approval of others to be whole. That’s a lie our society feeds us. Those ‘things’, chosen by you correctly, just help you grow, to become a greater whole.

We’re an island, but potentially connected to every other island by bridges. For most people, what’s sent across those bridges to you doesn’t feel like a choice, you have to take what comes whether the cargo is good feelings or bad. Often what you send to others is what you feel you should, what’s expected of you. ILOC changes this. It puts you in charge. You can choose to burn the bridges that don’t serve you. Reinforce the ones that do. Be responsible for how you connect to the world.

Here’s more old advice on this:

“Drink from your own wells. Sup at your table. Speak from your own heart. Go where your legs take you. Know your own mind. See through your soul’s eyes. Follow none but your own self.” Marcus Tullius Tiro

Listen to everybody, but go your own way.

This level of my therapy helps you reach a place where you recognize that you are making yourself up, every day. That you can choose who you make yourself into. Every day. That your life is your life’s work. Your purpose to explore what’s possible for you, in any endeavour that has meaning. That’s what therapy as a philosophy is.

And, perhaps, sharing my lightbulb moment that none of it matters. That my purpose serves nothing larger than my need to seek. The understanding that the universe isn’t keeping score, or is even capable of caring what I do. We’re here now, and you can do with your life what you choose. That’s your duty. To yourself. Live your life fully, and wholeheartedly.

That’s where the path of therapy can take you. More freedom than most people choose to face. Can you?