In my practice, most people I see wish they were someplace different than where they find themselves. Of course, the things that bring people in to psychotherapy are usually unwanted. People are in places of pain, angst, shame, and struggle. They are thwarted in their relationships and in their potential for living. Life is not going well and they are not in the place they envisioned for themselves when they dreamed of life. There’s sometimes a deep sense of disappointment and disillusionment. Some people even feel judgment or shame for where they find themselves. They believe, “I shouldn’t be here” or “There’s something wrong with me for being in this place.”
These are hard places to be. And yet they are places in which we all find ourselves. There’s nothing unusual or peculiar in this experience. Life doesn’t go the way we dreamed or planned. We find ourselves grappling with things we never thought we would and that we only thought would happen to other people. There’s a false sense of safety in separating ourselves from others in this way. But what I’ve learned is that we all struggle and in much the same ways, even if on the surface our concerns seem different. Inherent in our humanity, we all struggle with issues such as how to be in relationship with ourselves and others, searching for meaning and identity, and loss. Rather than hiding behind our differences, there’s comfort and something true in understanding the unity of our struggle.
Thus, I don’t believe some of us are normal while others of us are mentally ill. Rather, I approach people with the deep belief that we are in places of pain because there is suffering we must contend with in life and we are doing the best we know how given the resources we have at any given time. My work is to meet people in the place they are in without judgment of how they got there and without the presumption that I know best which direction they must go. Although some come to therapy seeking direction from a therapist, I don’t believe prescription is where the real power of therapy lies. It is not in the knowing but in the grey areas of uncertainty where change occurs. Without being prescribed certain courses of action, this process naturally leads to inward transformation and empowerment to make one’s own decisions.
So what if we could allow ourselves to be exactly where we are, even if it’s an uncomfortable place? What if we could expect to be in these hard places at times without the belief that we can and should avoid them? Isn’t it easier to move forward without the judgment that we should not be here in the first place? Although we don’t seek out hard places, don’t they so often bring along with them potential for profound growth and propel us forward into new places that were previously unavailable? This can and does happen when we stop resisting them and even press into them. To move forward, we have to begin from the place where we really are.