Against the idea of cure in therapy

How many of us have wanted to be ‘cured’, ‘enlightened’, ‘resolved’, ‘at peace with the past’, where we can finally, once and for all, say, “I’ve got the answer.” We have an image of some teacher, supervisor, maybe someone we have heard of, who has reached some extraordinary state of mind. My ideal was someone who always knew what to do and had the answers, was never flustered, anxious, or sad, just always at peace. And this ideal therapist, in my imagination, was never plagued by anxiety, sadness, anger, shame, or guilt. No, he had surpassed those miserable states and had reached the ‘promised land’. Oh, and did I mention that he always had a brilliant answer when people projected upon him? This was some ideal image I had.


I figured if I did enough therapy, analysis, and training, I would overcome these feelings (aka life itself). Each therapy I did was secretly another chance to find the magic answer and transcend the experience of being human. Yet no matter how fast I ran, that shadow was right behind me…my humanness.


I didn’t want therapy. I wanted magic. I didn’t want life. I wanted my fantasy. But life, myself, kept showing up instead of my fantasy. Go figure.


Being therapists, it’s easy for us to imagine we have some arcane knowledge other people don’t have. And once we have it, we often share it with others before letting it transform ourselves first. Before we get enlightened, we try to ‘enlighten’ others. How do we know if we aren’t passing on our undigested inner struggles? We don’t. We yearn to be the ‘cured’ one who ‘cures’, yet we may pass on to them our own unmetabolized pain. It is easier to run from our pain than to try to heal someone else’s. Yet whether this is even healing is a question we don’t ask.


I’m in no position to criticize, being a master avoider myself. We secretly hope that therapy will remove our capacity to experience the pain that life brings. We try to “transcend” those states through “cure”, “enlightenment”, meditation, therapy, encounter groups, crystals, drugs, you name it. “I haven’t reached enlightenment, but if you do this therapy, ritual, special new powerful technique, you will reach the promised land. If you don’t, repeat the ritual until the magic happens.” [If something doesn’t work, do more of it.]


Meanwhile the wind blows, the river flows, and the sun rises in the East, all unaware of this dramatic wonder of imagination. Life happens, your heart breaks, and the choice occurs again: false transcendence or diving into the real.


Pt: “I’m afraid I’m falling apart.”

Th: “Your façade is falling apart. Can we find out who you are underneath?”

Pt: “I feel like my heart is breaking.”

Th: “It already did. Could you let the tears heal it?”

Pt: “I feel like this pain is killing me.”

Th: “No. Your false self is dying. Could you let it die so we can find out who you really are?”

Pt: “When will this pain be over?”

Th: “When you stop resisting it. Could you let go, so your heart can be healed?”

Pt: “I feel like my dreams are shattered.”

Th: “They are. Can we hold the funeral?”


Can we let reality and our feelings about it pour through us? What if it is not our job or destiny to be purified, “permanently once and for all cured”? What if it is our job to be ourselves, to become at one with our inner lives again and again and again? What if it is our job to love others, ourselves, and our patients as we are? What if it is our job to take ourselves and everyone else off the merry go round torture machine of so-called “self-improvement”?


I know, I know. I can hear the voices now: “but what about ‘cure’? What about ‘insight’? What about ‘realization’?” Yes, patients improve and no longer have a diagnosis. Yes, we will all continue to see deeper into ourselves, others, and life itself. And yes, we will keep waking up from the self-induced anesthesia of our denial. But we will still have clay feet.


We will be here, not there in the exalted ‘not here’ space. We will be now, not in the future imaginary place. We will still be the real us, not the superhuman us. We will still be in reality, not fantasy.


Disappointing, I know. Reality always seems disappointing in comparison to fantasy, which being limitless, is infinitely exciting. But life does not need you to be unreal, not you. It has already accepted you as you are.


We engage in this perpetual home renovation project: “I will eternally seek the fabulous ‘not me’ and reject who I am and what I feel right now.” Our fundamental defense? Denial of the reality of me. Our fundamental addiction? Running away to the not me, the not now, the not here.


Realizing that, we can go to the next fantasy: “I’ll let go of self-rejection, engage in constant self-love, and then I’ll be realized.” Fellow clay-footed creature! What if we have to accept our self-rejection when it comes up? What if we have to accept our clay-footedness? What if we have to accept our repeated yearnings for messianic transformations into not us as part of being us?


We long to become not me through addictions like drugs, food, sex, religions, and therapy. But we have never met anyone who became not him. The only choice left is to take life and ourselves as we are, here and now.


Who are we? We are people who fantasize about becoming special, future versions of somebody else. We are people who reject ourselves as we are here and now. Love is not about setting aside our denial and fantasies, purifying ourselves. It’s about accepting these “impurities” as the reality of what is flowing through us in this moment. It’s about opening our hearts to ourselves and to one another. And doing so imperfectly. Humanly.








One response to “Against the idea of cure in therapy”

  1. María José, Ph Avatar

    It is funny, Jon because it seems to me you are really ‘enlightened’. As far as you realize of your human nature, you are closer to see the truth or reality.

    Your writting stile is lovely. A pleasure to read your posts. Thanks for them.

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