“Our minds work very hard to make something out of nothing. We can perceive silence as rejection in an instant, and then build a cold castle on that tiny imagined brick. They only release from the tensions we weave around nothing is to remain a creature of the heart. By giving voice to the river of feelings as they flow through and through, we can stay clear and open.” – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
Readers often ask me, “You talk about relationship anxiety. Is it the same as ROCD?” Or if the conversation centers around generalized intrusive thoughts I’ll often hear, “I have Pure-O. Is that the same as intrusive thoughts?” Psychology likes to package up a collection of symptoms and give it name which we call a diagnosis, and for some people this can be helpful.
What we must understand, however, is that the diagnosis is only important if it leads to effective treatment, and, sadly, many people do not find effective treatment for their “OCD” in many therapists’ offices. In fact, I’ll often receive emails from therapists themselves who have been fully trained in various modalities and are still struggling with their own intrusive thoughts.
What’s happening here?
What’s happening is that most graduate schools for psychology focus on a top-down approach for healing, which currently is CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). CBT teaches you to change your unhelpful thinking patterns (Cognitive) and practice new Behaviors in the hopes of creating more confidence. I want to be clear that I have no problem with CBT and I know it has helped many people. I’ve also quite aware of its limitations, which is what I’ll be addressing here.
Dr. Lionel Corbett, a long-time professor at Pacifica Graduate Institute (Dr. Corbett was a professor of mine in 1996), speaks to the limitations in this video. He says:
Everyone who comes to psychotherapy is suffering, and we can never fully understand suffering scientifically using quantitative, empirical methods. The human being is too complicated for this kind of simplistic, empirical approach. Many of the problems we see in psychotherapy, much of the suffering we try to alleviate, requires a response that can only emerge from the fundamental humanity of the therapeutic couple, from an understanding of the complexities of relationships, and from an appreciation for the depth of the soul… The attempt to squeeze the practice of psychotherapy into a scientific model I think is a defense against the difficulty of working with severe emotional pain, for which there is no obvious remediation.”
Read that paragraph again, and then watch Dr. Corbett delivering these words himself in the video.
What I’ve bolded above aligns with the quote with which I began this post. Do you see the connection? Before I give it to you, read both of these passages again and see if you can determine the link for yourself.
Here’s the key that’s missing from many therapeutic modalities and from many therapist’s approach:
We try to bypass the realm of the heart.
Mainstream psychotherapy believes that we can heal intrusive thoughts and other obsessive tendencies by plugging into a “scientifically validated model” without attending to the realms of the heart, the body, and the soul. Both Mark Nepo, a poet, and Dr. Corbett, an analyst-poet, are saying the same thing, which is that we heal at the level of the heart.
As intrusive thoughts are the mind’s attempt to bypass the pain of the heart, we must follow the breadcrumbs of the symptom back to the original source, which is the pain we’re trying to avoid because we learned early in life that we couldn’t handle it. Sadly, many therapists haven’t done their inner emotional work and are still operating under the assumption that pain can be managed away. This is what they teach to their clients, and this is why CBT is often a band-aid approach.
Furthermore, CBT posits that it can cure you of your symptoms in ten sessions (that’s the number of sessions that many insurance companies will allow). This is preposterous. While CBT can certainly teach you some tools for working with your thoughts (again, that’s the C of CBT) and educate you about the link between thoughts and behavior, because it fails to include the unconscious in its framework and understanding of the human psyche, it falls terribly short in terms of approaching human suffering through a holistic lens. CBT cannot address the full complexity of the human psyche because no approach can. But the depth psychological approach in its reverence for the mystery recognizes that the unconscious is far too vast to presuppose a “10-session cure”, and with humility at its starting point we open ourselves to be guided by the clients’ own wisdom, which is far superior than any therapists’ or therapeutic model.
As Dr. Corbett expresses above, true healing must occur within the safety and connection of a loving therapeutic relationship. We are not lab mice that can be systematically programmed out of our unwanted thoughts and behaviors. There is no formula we can plug a client into and expect them to be healed in ten sessions. As many of our ruptures occurred in relationship, they need to be healed in relationship – “ from the fundamental humanity of the therapeutic couple”. This recognition of the healing power of the relationship itself is another massive oversight in the CBT model.
Here are the bottom lines:
We must be willing to feel if we’re going to heal.
We must be wiling to address the protective beliefs we have around feeling the depth of our emotional pain
We must recognize that intrusive thoughts are also metaphors, which speaks to the realm of soul that is so central to the work of Jungians.
If we bypass the realm of the heart and soul, we’re bypassing both the mystery and richness of being human, the poetic nature of what it is to be alive, in these bodies, with these ephemeral souls that link to other times and to other realm.