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Can therapy really help?


Many times I wonder, mostly after hearing a story about a client's horrific childhood, whether any therapy can mend the "unmendable". Can a healer, a therapist, or anyone else, fill the excruciating void created by parents who were unable to provide the care, stability, warmth and nurturing all children need and deserve? And more specifically, can I, filled with great intentions, some good tools and strategies and a listening heart, really help ease the pain, shame, guilt and anger that survivors of a shattered childhood experience?
A while back, I worked with a young woman whose childhood and teenage years were drastically impacted by her mother's experience in a residential school.* There seemed to be no measure for her hurt, caused by a harsh, judgmental and non-validating environment, and no end to her pain over the family conflict and relationships break-down that ensued as a result. As a therapist, I struggled to find an "anchor"- a goal, a dream, anything to help this survivor in finding a way out of the anguish that appeared to be consuming her emotionally, and contributing to her serious health condition. It was a while before this client was able to identify and embrace her strengths and look forward into what, and whom, she wanted in her future.
This woman, a mother herself now, said in our last session, as we were talking about her next steps:  "This is the kind of conversation I could never have with my mother". She expressed sadness, but she also spoke of hope, of a renewed sense of confidence and self-assurance, which were created through our work together. She came to the last session with a broken arm; apparently, it took her a few days to realize that the arm is not just bruised, and requires medical attention. We spoke about this as a metaphor for life: Even when something is broken, and may never be perfectly fixed, one can have a rich, fulfilling and happy life, learning how to function with the existing injury (of course, we also talked about the need to recognize when one is hurting, and to get help...).
Does therapy always have a positive conclusion? Sadly, no. But sometimes, many times, when it is the right moment for the person to reach out, when the client and therapist work well together and develop a relationship based on trust, validation and respect, the individual's strengths, skills and abilities can shine through and help them re-author their lives. Your first chapters don't have to determine the rest of your book.
With thanks and great admiration to HP, for all that she taught me. I hope to make good use of her teachings to help others.

* A lot has been said and written about the atrocities of the residential schools and the consequential devastation of First Nations families and communities; you may want to read the chilling poem by Gary Geddes The Resumption of Play (in a book by the same title, 2016, Quattro Poetry) which captures the horror and trauma from the perspective of a child being snatched from his family and community to a residential school.

The views and suggestions on this blog are for informational purposes only; they do not presume to capture the full complexity of an individual situation nor do they pretend to offer comprehensive therapeutic consultations. If you need help, please contact a regulated professional (registered social workers, psychotherapists or psychologists). 

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