Who are we as therapists?

Yesterday I showed a case involving a patient who had been extremely cruel and sadistic in his life. Naturally, this triggered multiple feelings and reactions. Some were enraged. Others were so horrified they said they could not have worked with him. Others said that through projective identification he was inducing feelings in us.
The fact is: we are human. Everything in any patient is in us too. That is why we are in no position to judge. Every feeling and the capacity for every defense is within us too. It is not that patients “put” their feelings in us. By saying and acting the ways they do, they awaken the feelings and truths within ourselves we want to avoid. When we judge patients, we say: that experience is “not-me.” This is not just a way to reject the patient; it is how we reject our own humanity. It is not that we fear our patients; we usually fear the depths they awaken in ourselves.
The path of the therapist is one of increased expansion in which we learn to embrace the vastness of ourselves. If we don’t want to see a patient, is it possible we don’t want to see something in ourselves? We are the infinity of human experience. Whatever we judge or condemn is that part of our humanity we send into exile. Every time we embrace some horrible feeling or defense in the patient, we embrace the vastness we are. We begin to recognize the inner space we are that holds everything at once. Our rage, our love, our sadness, our anxiety, our defenses, our capacity for cruelty, and our capacity for kindness—all of this side by side at the same time inside us all the time. So hard to bear our humanity, so easy to project it onto our patients.
Instead, there is the therapeutic task: the infinity of our humanity embracing the infinity of the patient’s humanity. We can avoid this path of the embrace. We can judge, condemn, explain away, rationalize, deny, and avoid the humanity of our patients and ourselves. Or we can return to the path of embracing humanity, ours and the patient’s, what Freud called this cure through love.

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