How Do Therapists Sit with the Pain?

Many people often wonder how psychotherapists can sit with the heavy burdens and pain expressed by their clients. I want to take a moment to give my perspective on how this is possible for anyone to accomplish, if not do and feel they’ve had a rewarding, meaningful experience.

We’ve all been to some kind of party or gathering when we weren’t feeling our best. Given that it’s not always socially acceptable to let our true feelings show, participating at a social event in this state of mind, (especially with those we don’t know well) can be exhausting at best, excruciating at worst.

Then, when the Universe allows, or we’re open enough to see the opportunity, someone in the party appears to be genuine. There, in that moment, you might feel that it’s okay to be more fully yourself, to relax a bit, to not feel as compelled to participate in the “social dance” in which you find yourself surrounded.

We feel we can take at least one deep breath, possibly even realize we may not have been breathing fully at all. If we’re lucky, that person may talk about how they’re actually feeling or what they’re thinking (i.e., “I’m a little nervous at social gatherings” or “I’m annoyed with my boss.”) This then gives us permission to be authentic as well. I will never forget my colleague’s quote, “Nobody real is boring.”

This experience can be easily compared to therapy. While no type of suffering is enjoyable, there is a meaningful interaction created when one shares themselves vulnerably and authentically. Every time I witness a client taking a risk (no matter how small) there is a sense of communion and presence that is palpable. Think of those times when a friend, coworker, or family member finally revealed to you a glimpse of their inner world and you felt that sense of connection. Feelings and thoughts simply are. Its what we do with feelings that is most important. If nothing else, an instant sense of respect and reverence is established. I, like other psychotherapists, believe it is a privilege to be part of peoples’ personal and spiritual growth process.

Jason Esswein is a licensed marriage and family therapist in south San Jose, CA. He works in private practice with individual adults, couples, and children.

(408) 975-2982

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