If I only had a few words to summarize how I view my role as a therapist, I would say I am a facilitator of authenticity and intimacy. Authenticity is our ability to be our true selves, to connect to our own feelings, beliefs, values and desires. A young child embodies great authenticity through congruent knowledge and expression of how s/he feels or thinks in a given moment. If a child likes or dislikes something, chances are you will know it without question. As we get older, and we are conditioned by relationships, society and cultural expectations, there are more opportunities for authenticity to be compromised. For example, if a child’s passion for painting was repeatedly dismissed as a waste of time by an unapproving parent, the child may start to suppress that passion and subsequently move away from their true nature. Or as Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” In families or communities where there are rigid rules surrounding expectations, beliefs, feelings, values, etc. there also may be challenges to authenticity. The goal of therapy then becomes introducing a person to one’s self, the person they already are.
Stephen Porges, author of The Pocket Guide to The Polyvagal Theory, wrote “Mammals do not like forced confinement. Across mammalian species, the most potent stressors appear to be isolation and restraint.” Humans are wired for relationships. Unfortunately, we currently live during a time where the kind of intimacy we need in relationships is complicated to achieve. Social media plays a large role in driving us away from real connection. True intimacy requires vulnerability, honesty and presence – all are components of authenticity. The goal of therapy then is to learn how to meaningfully engage with others.
When I work with couples, I am often helping each partner create intimacy by being more authentic with themselves as well as with each other. This involves the identification of feelings and clear communication of wants and needs within an environment of empathy. The goals seem simple but they are not easy to achieve. In therapy I am often asking people to look at parts of themselves that are painful or undesirable. The benefit of this hard work, though, may include a greater connection to self and others as well as an overall improved zest for life.