Center for Human Awakening BLOG
Why are boundaries so important in therapy?
Therapy is a relationship. The meeting points of this relationship are as specific as any other kind of relationship. The wise therapist needs to pay careful, regular attention to these meeting points as a way of maintaining healthy contact with her clients.
Boundaries enable relationship. They are not what relationship is all about, but they offer ways and means. Like internet connections they link you up, rather than proscribe what will be the content of the communication.
In therapy there are physical boundaries and energetic, emotional ones -- the seen and the unseen boundaries.
Money in remuneration for therapy is a seen boundary. You make a charge and the client agrees to pay it. That's an agreement you make and it is a boundary that can be kept or broken.
Time is another seen or physical boundary. You agree to meet your client at a predetermined time and frequency. How exact that time is, how fixed, how you deal with late arrival and the consequences of cancellation or not showing up -- this is the business of negotiating clear time boundaries.
Money and time boundaries are extremely powerful and they can have profound therapeutic results. They reflect our sense of inner worth. Money and time are symbolic of self-esteem, self-worth, self-image, and our overall sense of value. They are undoubtedly important issues for our clients -- but also for ourselves.
Relational boundaries in psychotherapy and counseling vary enormously across different traditions and lineages. Analytical psychotherapists, for example, don't work with the relative or a friend of an existing client. Humanistic psychotherapists by contrast may well have social relationships with their clients. We will surely return to this subject over the levels of the SAT training, since it is so complex and important.
In the meantime, questions such as, Is attending a social situation with a client, outside of the therapeutic setting, breaking a boundary? Is befriending a client breaking a boundary? What should I do if I arrive at a social dinner and one of my clients is present? should be thought about deeply and, for the moment, I suggest that you ask what is right for you in regard to this boundary issue and in regard to individual clients. Where you feel unclear and need to discuss a particular relationship further, I suggest discussing it with your supervisor.
Richard Harvey is a psycho-spiritual psychotherapist, spiritual teacher, and author. He is the founder of The Center for Human Awakening and has developed a form of depth-psychotherapy called Sacred Attention Therapy (SAT) that proposes a 3-stage model of human awakening. Richard can be reached at [email protected]Blog entry #170
Therapists should always be prepared for the unexpected. The catharsis of feelings is not always tidy. It does not always wait for you to lay the mattress and cushions on the floor and send an invitation. If strong catharsis and particularly demonstrative catharsis appears as the practitioner you need to trust the process. You must breathe. This is important to ensure that you do not get caught with any of the flagrant feelings flying around the room. Hold the space, be sure that your client cannot harm themselves physically, for example, if they are striking the arm of their chair you may need to pad it or redirect their hitting to a nearby cushion.
Your therapy space should to be able to accommodate and contain shouting, hitting, screaming, swearing, kicking, stomping, and movement of all kinds. It must be safe to express emotions, release them, and be cathartic. Your client has a right to reclaim their feelings.
When a client connects with the flow of emotional life beneath the surface we must respect the consequences for them and the lives of others close to them. While some balance is being gained, some new alignment set in their integrating and stabilizing as a feeling, emotionally expressive human being, your client may need some help and guidance concerning their primary love relationship and close friends. Because these relationships are the ones your client feels most strongly about, now feelings are flowing more freely, close and loved ones may need help to understand what is happening in the client’s inner world and what is now being expressed in the client’s outer world.
Become sensitive to your client’s needs and you can help him or her to re-engage with their emotions. People are not all the same -- no slogans about allowing or encouragements to release are as effective as the wisdom that underpins the effective guidance that comes out of a genuine understanding of your client. You may need to be tremendously slow, gentle, and sensitive, patient and understanding. For some what seems a very small movement to you may be immense from their perspective. Never assume your sense of proportion equals that of your client.
There are a variety of principal messages which you may want to be aware of and they may underpin your approach with any given client. Here are a few pointers.
- Your emotions are acceptable and it is OK to feel.
- Everything inside you is natural and human.
- Feelings are natural and desirable; they fulfill our humanness.
- You can feel and set the boundary between us.
- It is alright to feel hurt.
- You have permission to be angry.
- I will listen to your feelings.
- Emotions are not shameful; you do not have to feel guilty for feeling them.
- You have a right to your emotions; you deserve to feel, your feelings are valuable.
- Your emotions are of value.
- Your feelings are worth listening to, worth my time, and they deserve to be recognized and acknowledged.
In Sacred Attention Therapy we work with shared reflection, which includes the client in the process of developing awareness on a mutual, equitable relationship. A final thought about emotional repression in therapy: you only feel strong emotions toward people you care about. This is important. Anger can bind you as much as love. The surplus of emotions your client is bearing in their psyche – many of them are related to people who really mattered when they were young. These emotions now bind them to those people. So, do not be surprised if your client begins to have powerful feelings toward you – and they may well be negative ones.
When your client directs negative emotions toward you, simply try and stay out of the way and recognize the effectiveness of having these powerful feelings expressed now they are real and present in the therapy room. The connection to the important figures from early life will emerge; just trust the process… and when it does the source of the emotions will become clear and presage the healing transformation.
Personal therapy takes place through the Process of Self-Discovery in which the wounds of the past are healed. As you pass through the final stages of personal awakening, through forgiveness and attaining wholeness by owning the shadow or all you have denied, you enter into a realm of heart feeling that is more alive and vivid than emotions ever were before.
Real emotions flow after the dammed-up ones are finally released. Only when these present responsive emotions are flowing do we come to truly experience authentic emotionality. It is like turning on a bright light. No longer are emotions and your feeling life a reactive affair, no longer do emotions bruise, hurt, and crush you. A vibrant, life-giving torrent of experience awaits you in the second and the third stages of awakening. In time, you will look back and it seems as if the world that was in black and white is now flashing and brilliant, dazzling with a new dimension of feeling and emotion.
Richard Harvey is a psycho-spiritual psychotherapist, spiritual teacher, and author. He is the founder of The Center for Human Awakening and has developed a form of depth-psychotherapy called Sacred Attention Therapy (SAT) that proposes a 3-stage model of human awakening. Richard can be reached at [email protected]Blog entry #169
Family beliefs are the shared and collective judgments and prejudices that appear in a family grouping. The family in this context is usually biological in origin – the so-called nuclear family -- though today it often includes step-siblings and partners who may not be biological parents, but who relate to the children as parents and primary carers.
Speaking of her parents and the prevailing mood of lies in the family, a character in a modern novel describes the experience like this: "It wasn't so much any specific thing they said as the whole family atmosphere. It was the air we -- even that 'we' was a kind of lie -- breathed."
The family atmosphere is the experience we "breathed" in and it was, at least in part, the result of the concepts and beliefs held by the family.
Family beliefs may be shared in the sense of conformed to or they may be rebelled against. Either way we are interested in them in Sacred Attention Therapy (SAT) because they reveal the client’s life orientation. It is important to see whether we accept or reject a particular belief, but whichever we choose, it may still become a part of us. In fact all the collective events, narrative, and fabric of the family become part of our ancestral heritage, even secrets and personal, private thoughts. This makes therapy sometimes extremely challenging as we try to embrace the client’s whole experience, including only tacitly known facts or suspicions. As SAT therapists we can hold even tentatively offered experiences, sometimes placing them on the back-burner as the emerging life story reveals a place for the smaller details.
Family beliefs are pronouncements about the fabric of life, about human reactions to life events and relationships. They reflect principles and convictions about trust, love, disappointment, certainty, welcoming, belonging, taking risks, dangers, what can be relied on, what is certain to fail – the list seems endless; it is as long as lives themselves and as rich and varied and diverse.
Family beliefs reveal attitudes to right and wrong, to morality, discipline, and effort. They declare what binds the family together, what is of value and what is not. They come from parents, teachers, relatives, friends, and mentors. They arise out of a broad canvas of assumptions and expectations, colored by society, culture, religion, literature, philosophy, psychology, and the prevailing ethos.
They may stem from conventional morals, communal values, old adages, common folk wisdom, superstitions, collective wisdom, and cultural notions. They may have a flavor of our national identity, class identity, local identity, and conclusions drawn from the place we perceive we occupy in the world.
Sometimes they derive from edicts, aphorisms, axioms, mottos, or maxims -- common sayings and folklore. They can be sourced in poetry, folk songs, and pop songs, and reinforced in comedy, theater, movies and other forms of popular entertainment.
Richard Harvey is a psycho-spiritual psychotherapist, spiritual teacher, and author. He is the founder of The Center for Human Awakening and has developed a form of depth-psychotherapy called Sacred Attention Therapy (SAT) that proposes a 3-stage model of human awakening. Richard can be reached at [email protected]Blog entry #168
In the practice of Sacred Attention Therapy, or SAT, we spend a lot of time being. My kids used to ask me, What do you do at work dad? And I used to say, "As little as possible." This isn’t precisely correct of course, because not doing can be as hard as, or even harder than, doing.
One of the reasons we go to see a therapist or counselor is that they are not too eager to interfere. The mature and good counselor takes time to intervene, allows the client time to talk, feels into the client’s reality, and, because he is able to be and not just do, he is able to firmly set his own personal material to one side.
This setting our own material to one side is tremendously important, because it is only in receptive emptiness that we can resonate with another. Think about this for a minute. The blank canvas is a gift to the artist, as is the empty note pad to the wandering poet, the piles of wood and bricks to the gifted builder, and the uncarved block to the artist-sculptor. Therapy too is an art and, as we set our own material to one side, so we are more able to help our client to understand herself more deeply and in time heal. But in order for that to happen the client before us paints her picture for us to see, acknowledge, and validate.
Validation, recognition, and acknowledgement are fundamental needs. Mostly as children we have not had enough of these. Take your own children, or somebody else’s, to a play park and you will learn this very quickly. Look at me! cries the child excitedly propelling herself down the slide, whipping up a storm on the swing, or recklessly riding the roundabout. As many times as you can respond with, Great! Yes! Well done! Brilliant! the child returns with the repeated demand, Look at me! It seems as if the need for validation and recognition could go on forever.
Most of us did not receive the attention we hoped for and needed. We wanted more, we deserved more. Sometimes more in the sense of more and more times, but often simply more in the sense of a quality of attention -- the need to have all the attention or someone's total attention.
In SAT we give our attention. We give all our attention, every bit of it, and if we cannot do that, then either we should be doing something else or we should learn how to do it. All therapy, at least in the first stages, is remedial. Remedial means making up for lost time, filling in a deficit, giving love and awareness into a seeming void... though it turns out only to be a child’s need for validation, for recognition, for some affirmation that “I exist.”
Blog entry #167
Is there ego or not? Do we have one? Is it desirable at all? What is it? Why are we so confused with the endless spiritual messages—usually negative—concerning ego?
The word ego simply means "I." It denotes the self-sense; when born a human being we participate in some identity and recognize it as our self. In western psychology it has been judged "a good thing." In eastern spirituality it has been judged "a bad thing." This is because the religions and philosophies of the east have tended to be preoccupied with transcending the world and those of the west have been concerned with preparing in this world for an afterlife. Thus, for example, Indians have a downer on ego, while Europeans tend to rely on ego for mental health. In the west we have overemphasized ego; in the east they have denied ego. One way of dealing with this twin imbalance is to synthesize east and west. Vivekananda did this when he said that Indian boys instead of learningshould play football.
In, we clarify the process of ego by practically observing and revealing that it has a different role and function according to what stage of psycho-spiritual development we're in. For example, it does little good to say to someone in the first two stages of awakening that the ego doesn't exist—a popular shibboleth for advaita adherents today... and before I get spiritually assassinated by the advaita zealots just allow me enough breath to tell briefly this wonderful story of Ramana Maharshi, the Indian saint who perhaps more than anyone was responsible for introducing us to this profound teaching.
When a Moslem contractor who was harvesting tamarind at Ramana's ashram catapulted stones at the monkeys, he inadvertently killed one. The monkeys carried the corpse to Ramana in their grief and anger to gain his. After joining with them in and mirroring their distress, he said, "Death is inevitable for everyone who is born. He at whose hands this monkey died will also meet with death one day. There is no need to grieve." Pacified by Ramana's loving kindness, the monkeys left carrying the corpse.
Now, we notice Ramana did not say there is no ego, no body, no self. He didn't choose to slap sense into them. He simply met the situation and reflected the events clearly and compassionately in a way that was appropriate.
Please (this to the advaitists) stop telling all the world that there is no I, no self, no body, and so on. It can only be interpreted by many of us as a nihilist philosophy leading to despair. Some people are fragile in mind and heart, some are damaged and wounded. Some are trying very hard to build a strong sense of self, an ego, and perhaps in time they will find themselves ready to receive the teachings of no-self.... but they are not ready, not yet.
You would not teach this to a young child and many of us are still like young children... So don't catapult stones at us.
Blog entry #166Richard Harvey is a psycho-spiritual psychotherapist, spiritual teacher, and . He is the founder of and has developed a form of depth-psychotherapy called (SAT) that proposes a 3-stage model of human awakening. Richard can be reached by email at . This blog was originally published on July 18, 2015.