Ask a Therapist: How Does Psychotherapy Heal Us?
By: Dr. Erin Jacklin
In my work as a psychologist I often get asked the question: Why does therapy heal? My answer is quite different that you might think.
We all desire a witness, someone who sees us in a way that feels true, and accepts us as we are (even as we struggle to accept ourselves as we are). We recognize the feeling of being truly witnessed, and it is transformative. In my experience as a therapist, when I am fully present and connected with a client, and truly bear witness to them, something incredible takes place.
It is hard to describe, but impossible to miss when it happens. Even in the depths of a terrible life event, being witnessed makes us feel lighter somehow and less alone. Having someone with us, feeling what we are feeling, trying to look through our eyes and be “in it” together with us is something we are all yearning for and rarely get.
Having a trusted confidant who you know cares deeply about you, doesn’t need you to be perfect or to sugar-coat the truth, and is able to witness you and accept you with all your strengths and all your challenges changes you in a profound way. I feel incredibly blessed to be able to bear witness to my clients in this powerful manner. Every time I am privileged with the opportunity to truly witness someone it transforms both of us.
The spiritual side of me believes this is an example of the power of seeing the divinity within each of us. This makes me think of one of my favorite quotes by Marianne Williamson from A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
The transformative power of being truly witnessed in therapy is actually less about having someone with you in the toughest moments, it is more about having someone who can see your light shining through, even when you cannot. Your witnessing therapist sees it all, not just how stuck you are feeling in this moment, but the beautiful, magnificent part of you that wants to shed your darkness and fly.