Psychoanalysis has taken some hard knocks over the years as a kind of mental masturbation. The knocks aren’t all fair— and they’re not all without merit. At my office we have a few cartoons about analysis in the staff room. One is of a patient on the couch and an analyst sitting behind him—both are texting. Another is of a man drowning and calling out to his dog on the riverbank, “Lassie, get help!” Lassie is seen in the next frame lying on an analyst’s couch.
I’ve done analysis. The main problem was the intermittent, unreliable experience of love in the therapy. It was very “analytical”, intellectually heady, full of brilliant insights, heavy confrontation—and even fear. The thing it lacked was its capacity to construct a safe, consistently loving process that could elicit a capacity for real change. It was not without benefit. I still use some tools from it. It was just, well—circular. Patients of analysis often complain that, “I figured out a lot of stuff, but nothing changed.”
Conversely I’ve worked with therapists who were brimming with love. They held me in a safe space allowing me to look at and take responsibility for my “shadow” material—the icky stuff we all hold in unconscious places (yes, those are technical terms). This holding capacity of the therapist was a central factor that facilitated my ability to take the responsibility I needed to make real change.
The problem with some kinds of therapy is that they lack this container of love—the main force for healing. Love in therapy can take many forms. It can be the love in group therapy that members feel for each other, the love a patient learns to feel for their “inner child,” the compassion a patient learns in self-compassion exercises. It can be the love felt between the patient and therapist that gives the patient the love they missed in early, crucial developmental stages. It can be the love and acceptance a patient feels when they are at their most cynical, bitter, angry, victimized place. It can be when someone is confronted with a firm, loving attitude of a therapist who can say, "That's enough. You've been talking for three sessions about the problem with him. I know you're stronger than this. What do you want to do about it?"
Carl Rodgers coined the theory of humanistic / client-centered therapy. The clinician is trained to hold the patient in a constant state of unconditional positive regard. In this way the client, who may have extremely neurotic patterns from a history of rejection or abuse, learns to internalize the unconditional positive regard from the therapist and establish the same positive regard (read loving relationship) with themselves.
There’s a strange paradox in schools of psychology. While love is obviously the primary healing force in all our lives, the word love is not explicitly used in many universities. In fact, it was never a “subject matter” for any course in my degree program. Its as if schools feel they won’t be taken seriously if they sound too “touchy feely” in their course materials.
In my experience the main thing clients need to experience in therapy is love and forgiveness for whatever guilt they may be holding onto. This is not a sugary, pink paint kind of love. It is a specific, powerful, and even fierce energy that breaks through long standing neurotic patterns.
As much as love in therapy is about affirming a person's worth and the value of saying yes to their lives, love can also about teaching someone the value of the word, "No." "No, I won't be abused anymore." "No, I'm not going to stay in this life sucking job." "No, I'm not going to keep using heroin. I'll do whatever it takes to stop." "No, I won't keep blaming my parents for my life."
Here is a list of common problems people have issues with in therapy and their possible treatment:
You’re depressed. (i.e. You’re constantly critical or angry with yourself). Approach for change: Learn to accept and love all of your feelings—especially anger, learn self-compassion, and how to take better self-care. Break isolation and open to intimacy with others.
You’re in an addiction. (i.e. You’re self-soothing with drugs, gambling, food, alcohol, or sex because you feel so bad about yourself). Approach to change: Learn to self-soothe and safely experience uncomfortable feelings. Learn to rely on others to help love you where you are unable to love yourself. This may take a group effort like twelve steps where you find others with the same issue who will love and accept you as you are. If in keeping with your beliefs, establish a loving “higher power” to rely on in.
You’re in a toxic relationship. Approach for change: Learn to lovingly re-parent your “inner child” and learn to communicate / mirror thoughts, feelings, and needs, hold boundaries. If need be, learn to say no to continuing.
You’re ridden with anxiety. Approach for change: Learn to lovingly accept unresolved trauma in your unconscious. This could be done with Emotional Freedom Technique. In this technique the first statement you would focus on is, “Even though I’m full of anxiety I deeply love and accept myself.”
You hate you’re job and want to change. Approach for change: Challenge self –limiting career beliefs, learn self-compassion for creative desires, recover buried passions, pursue career you love with goals that bring about change. (Joseph Campbell’s recipe was, Follow Your Bliss). Also, keep accountable in session to a therapist who supports and cares for your steps to change.
The late Leo Buscaglia was a rare scholar in the study of Love at USC (his course was called Love 1A). His lectures became so popular PBS picked him up for a special.
Check him out: