Monday, September 10, 2012

Working From the Heart:A Therapist's Guide to Heart-Centered Psychotherapy

    I love my patients. I know that some people will criticize me for being unprofessional in saying that. I know that others will encourage me to use some word or phrase other than love such as "non-judgmental" or "compassionate" or "unconditional positive regard". These are aspects of what I am describing, but insufficient. What I am discussing more is a way of being with clients - a kind of presence that can be integrated into any theoretical perspective of psychotherapy or counseling. I think that a big part of the problem is in our culture using the word love evokes images of sexual, romantic, or sentimental love. That's not what I am talking about. Indeed those forms of love would be harmful to my patients. what I am referring to is a broad spectrum of expressions of love that include: acts of kindness, compassion, encouragement, welcoming, open-hearted warmth, consoling touch,valuing,and celebrations of growth. I would wager that most readers do at least some of those things. And would probably do more if they didn't feel it was unprofessional, harmful or unnecessary.
   Most of the psychotherapists,counselors, pastoral counselors and life coaches that I have met originally entered this work because of a heartfelt desire to help people. Yet their training focused on theories,techniques and maintaining professional distance. Developing a compassionate presence. increasing our capacity for empathy, being a kind and caring person or a carrier of hope were infrequently or rarely mentioned. The message inherent in the focus upon theories and techniques is that genuine heartfelt expressions of love are unnecessary, unprofessional,perhaps even harmful.
   Here is the paradox and dilemma. Throughout the literature exploring what is effective in psychotherapy, consistently the most common response from clients is"My therapist cared about me as a person". Increasingly brain imaging research reports that a consistent and sustained loving presence can produce positive shifts in brain patterns. Apparently those moments when we genuinely move beyond the strictures of a professional role are healing and very meaningful to our clients.
   I am not saying that all our clients need is love. They need our minds and our hearts. The most effective psychotherapy and counseling occurs when we are both professionals using our theories and techniques and loving human beings. What I am advocating in a heart-centered approach is for us to return to our original intentions and bring our compassionate caring more into the foreground of our work.
   Opening our hearts makes us more vulnerable. How we respond will depend on what has happened to our hearts in the past when we allowed ourselves to be open and also in our current lives what are our possible unmet emotional needs. In the Wisdom of the Heart chapter I describe the personal issues that I had to work through as I evolved from a traditionally trained psychoanalyst to a more expressively open-hearted therapist. For our patients their primary issue will be of being receptive - how able are they to take in love when it is offered to them. This is the area of "love blocks" that I will discuss in a future blog and is discussed thoroughly in the Love Blocks chapter.

 The ideas discussed here are based on the Wisdom of the Heart chapter of my book: Working From the Heart: A Therapist's Guide to Heart-Centered Psychotherapy