This is a brief psychological overview of the healing process. The image of healing is best described by Gloria Vanderbilt in “A Mother’s Story” when she talks of breaking the invisible unbreakable glass bubble which enclosed her that kept her always anticipating loss with echoes of all past losses. She wrote, for example (Page 3),”Some of us are born with a sense of loss there from the beginning, and it pervades us throughout our lives. Loss, as defined, as deprivation, can be interpreted as being born into a world that does not include a nurturing mother and father. We are captured in an unbreakable glass bubble, undetected by others, and are forever seeking ways to break out, for if we can, surely we will find and touch that which we are missing”.
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This concept of healing was also described by Philip Berman in “If It Is Not Good Make It So” as changing positively from the unhappy attitude of(Page 48) “we never got the habit of happiness as others know it. It was always as if we were waiting for something better or worse to happen”.
Psychological theory of change suggests it is possible to heal, to break out of the glass bubble, to develop the attitude of happiness. For example, in “The Process of Change: Variations on a Theme by Virginia Satir says on Page 89 that “successful change-making turns out to involve struggle, necessitating skill, tenacity and perspective”. The struggle occurs when a foreign element produces chaos until a new integration occurs which results in a new status quo. Kurt Lewin echoed this view in saying that an old attitude has to unfreeze, the person experiments, a new attitude develops and a refreezing occurs.
Janis and Prochasky suggest a person starts in relative complacency, is presented with challenging information, the person evaluates the new challenge to habit or policy and reviews alternate policies to create a new policy or return to the original one,
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The psychological theories focus on perspective and rational thought. The significance of the therapist is in giving a new perspective and in aiding self-esteem in order to break down resistance to change. Otherwise, Satir suggests people are likely to revert to their trance like state of automatic thought and previous habits.
Maslow (1991), on the other hand, theorized that inherent in each human is a self-actualizing instinct. This was “not merely a matter of fulfilling one’s own particular talents; it also involves actualizing those potentialities that one has as a human being” The key for Maslow in engaging in this process was that of openness. People must be (Page 117) “receptive and responsive to information from the world and from themselves. They do not repress or ignore uncomfortable facts and problems and their view of these facts and problems is not distorted by wishes, fears, past experiences or prejudices”. This freshness of perspective permits spontaneity, creativity which then promotes growth. Growth is perceived as being open to one’s self and to others which leads to empathy.
Maslow felt that the purpose of therapy with its “unconditional positive regard” was to lead the person to such growth and that the result would be love, courage, creativeness, kindness and altruism. Breaking the old habits was the key. Page 127 “To the extent that one is open, one rises above the level of an automaton and becomes more of a creative, autonomous subject. And by these means, openness helps give us a sense that our lives are rewarding”.
Most psychologists seem to feel therapy is paramount in the process of change. Schoen, says for example,(Page 52) that before therapy “we are walled off in ourselves, often with evident obstinacy, at the same time, we may puff ourselves up, with obvious arrogance. We are in pain”. He theorizes that there is a miracle in therapy. He says (page 53) that the act of appreciating the person actually produces a chemical change that permits a freedom of the soul to stop defending all the conditions that maintain it in its pain. “The new creation is a flexible ego that can be new, fresh and express passion and compassion from the place of a new variableness in existence” (Page 54).
Morrow and Smith describe the healing process as strengthening the person to move beyond mere survival to wholeness and empowerment, from managing helplessness and being overwhelmed by threatening and dangerous feelings to problem focused strategies.(Page 32). Therapy permits the therapist to understand that the “profusion of dysfunctional symptoms really can be seen as rational and reasonable coping strategies”.
Bugental discusses that therapy is useful in showing how we all imprison ourselves. He theorizes that when this recognition is deeply experienced, “the world is already beginning to change-because the crippling element in these definitions is the belief that they are and can be the only way one sees them..”(Page 27)
He says we cripple ourselves by making us into objects and forgetting our subjectivity. In therapy we learn to recognize and respect our needs, emotions, anticipations, apprehensions and our sense of concern. But we learn not to be dominated by them.
We learn the frightening quality of relationships, that of the lack of control adds to the richness of relationships. We learn to invest in life and that relinquishment can be a sign of something right not necessarily something that has gone wrong. We learn that laws and mores are not absolutes but open to constant revision as we are to do with our inner selves.
Psychology seems to share the ideas that a person in emotional pain is stuck in a self made prison which can be escaped through unconditional positive regard and a fresh perspective. What isn’t clear is how rational thought combined with ‘love’ enters the person’s heart and soul.
Bugental James,F.T. “Lessons Clients Teach Therapists”, J. of Humanistic Psychology Vol.31 No. 3 Summer 1991
Mittleman Willard “Maslow’s Study of Self-Actualiztion: A Reinterpretation” Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 31 No.1, Winter 1991 Pages 114-135
Morrow Susan L. and Smith Mary Lee,”Survival Coping by Sexual Abuse Survivors”, Journal of Counseling Psychology 1995 Vol 42, No.1, pages 24-33.
“The Process of Change:Variations on a Theme by Virginia Satir”, J. of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 34 No.3, Summer, 1994 Pages 87-110.
Schoen Stephen MD “Psychotherapy as Sacred Ground”, J. of Humanistic Psychology, Vol 31 No.1, Winter 1991 Pages 51-55
Vanderbilt Gloria, “A Mother’s Story”, Alfred A. Knopf, N. Y. 1996