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Page Contents: Holding hands with your psychotherapist.                    

 

[I have experience] dealing with the needs of traumatized, adopted children. This is where my experience lies. I like to pretend I have it all together. I don’t. I actually came into psychotherapy through family therapy with my adopted son. We were working with an attachment oriented process, and I ended up doing some intense work there which brought up many emotional issues from my childhood. Unfortunately . . .  I could not finish the work I had started. So I found another psychotherapist, who I have been seeing for about 10 months. The question is this: I actually need her to sit closer to me in order to allow myself to experience emotions there. Or certain emotions, most notably sadness. My prior therapeutic relationship felt emotionally containing, though touch there was actually minimal. Is it so wrong to ask my psychotherapist to sit next to me and hold my hand while I “go there”? Usually she sits on her own chair and I sit on her couch. It is comfortable. But not nearly containing enough. I am really not certain if I can do the work without it. It is too scary.

 
In an ideal world, every child would experience the containing touch and gentle speech of both parents that give love and ask nothing in return. And through those experiences, the child would learn to trust deeply—and to discover real love, rather than the “bribery” that passes for “love” in today’s very imperfect world.

So, if you experienced a childhood that was far from the ideal, you do have many emotional wounds that have to be healed through the adult experience of psychotherapy. And, because as an adult you are a creature of language, your healing must be done through language. In other words, you cannot just become a child again in the consulting room; instead you have to put the trauma of the past into adult language, so as to “break the spell,” so to speak, of the past. It’s a bit like how in the fairy tale of Rumpelstilzchen the queen was able to free herself from her dilemma by discovering the name of Rumpelstilzchen.

All of this means, then, that having your psychotherapist hold your hand may feel comforting, but it really serves only to avoid the deepest pain that must be spoken from the depths of your own loneliness with full courage.

As I say in answer to another question, doing these sorts of courageous things in treatment may feel about as safe as playing catch with a bottle of nitroglycerine. But, if you learn how to do this in your own healing, you will find that your relationship with wounded children will improve immensely: learning how to speak your own pain allows you to hear the child’s pain with pure trust. But if you haven’t learned how to speak your own pain honestly, then every touch you give a child will have within it a veiled hint of your own needs to be soothed. And that, to a child, is terrifying.

So don’t let your experience “lie”—speak it honestly.

 


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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
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