When I was in graduate school twenty-five years ago, we learned many essential principles and tools for becoming a skilled healer in the counseling arts. We thoroughly covered various modalities, including the depth psychological perspective that informs all of my work, and spent countless hours practicing the sacred art of listening, tending, and receiving. But there is one element that was left out – or at least it wasn’t explicitly discussed as an essential ingredient for healing – and it took me years before I understood why. It’s the element of love.
Now I understand why this element isn’t discussed in graduate schools for psychology and counseling. For one, when you’re in the position of a healing practitioner you carry a particularly strong responsibility to your client, and all-too often, as we’re hearing about in increasing and heart-wrenching numbers, the person in the position of leadership takes advantage of their client or congregant. There is no excuse for this egregious behavior; it’s an unspeakable violation and there are hardly words for the level of damage that it does. Because our culture crosses wires around love and sex and we don’t seem to understand that love can and must exist without sex in every relationship except with your committed partner, it makes sense that a discussion of love would be missing from the curriculum.
Just as we learn that one aspect of relationship anxiety stems from our cognitive distortions around what real love is, so we see that even in the healing realm our culture’s distorted and limited understanding of the word love limits our capacity to access the various ways that love reveals itself. As I wrote about and quoted from the great Jungian analyst Robert Johnson in this post, the English language itself suffers from a tragic paucity of words for love:
“Sanskrit has ninety-six words for love; ancient Persian has eighty, Greek three, and English only one. This is indicative of the poverty of awareness or emphasis that we give to that tremendously important realm of feeling. Eskimos have thirty words for snow, because it is a life-and-death matter to them to have exact information about the element they live with so intimately. If we had a vocabulary of thirty words for love … we would immediately be richer and more intelligent in this human element so close to our heart. An Eskimo probably would die of clumsiness if he had only one word for snow; we are close to dying of loneliness because we have only one word for love. Of all the Western languages, English may be the most lacking when it comes to feeling.”
The second reason that the discussion of the healing power of love is avoided in clinical circles is because it’s not a skill that can be taught. The love we, as people in the healing professions, feel for our clients and patients is not something that can be studied, tested, or graded. It’s something we feel from our pores to our souls. It’s a way of seeing the true beauty in a human being. It’s a mindset that looks for wholeness instead of brokenness, for evidence of strength instead of symptoms that lead to a diagnosis of pathology. It’s not only the way we see our clients; it’s the way we see life: as full of goodness and on a trajectory of hope.
When I say I love my clients and course members it’s a love that rises from the depths of my being as I see and witness the beauty of who these people are. And it is in that seeing – in that clear witnessing – that some of the layers of their shame stories – the ones that say “I’m not enough or broken or weird or too much” – are rinsed away. Shame finds healing in the clear gaze of another. I am not afraid to communicate love because I know from where that love arises, and I know that there is nothing more healing than being seen in the fullness of who you are and loved in all of your intrinsic glory. When people come to me wondering, “Am I okay?” and I look them in the eyes and say, “You’re okay, it’s all normal,” these are not just words. I know them in my bones. Just like when I look at my children I can see their areas of struggle but I hold these struggles within the context of their deep, abiding, stunning goodness, beauty, and wholeness
A course member recently thanked me for “seeing the holy in the human”. Those were humbling words to read, and when I took them in I could see that they’re quite true: I strive to see essence in all beings, and I open myself hourly to serve a field higher than myself. Through my spiritual practices, I traverse between the worlds of heaven and earth, the practices a gold and silver thread that seek to weave the two realms together. When I see the essence of a human, I am, indeed, seeing the holy, which is another way of saying I see their spirit of only love.
It is love that sustains us. It is love that inspires us to grow. It is love that heals. And as Jason Mraz sings, “Love is still the answer.“