How Does Psychotherapy Heal? Part III – Psyche, Soma and Spirit
Psychological growth and spiritual development are mutually contingent on one another.
This week, I would like to share with you a case that illustrates the interdependence of psyche, soma and spirit in the healing process.
Sophia is a 70 year old member of a religious order. She and I have been meeting in twice a week psychotherapy for the past four years.
Sophia’s father sexually abused her from her early childhood until puberty. Sophia’s mother was hypercritical, perhaps envious, of her. At age 20, following one abortive relationship with a man, Sophia decided to enter a convent.
During her early adult life, Sophia turned to alcohol to drown her sorrow. Some years later, she developed a bipolar affective disorder. More recently, she was diagnosed with insulin dependent diabetes, as well as with Parkinson’s Disease.
1. Psyche: Healing Early Trauma
Donald Kalsched, a Jungian analyst, has written a trenchant book called “The Inner World of Trauma.” In describing the work of recovery from trauma, he suggests “where there is an affect, look for an image. Where there is an image, look for an affect.”
With this advice in mind, I encouraged Sophia, a talented artist, to create artwork that would give expression to her childhood memories and feelings. She took to this process readily, with great creativity. There ensued an extended period during which Sophia would bring drawings, watercolors, paintings or poetry to each session. Through giving form to her experiences, Sophia was able to access and to express her feelings at a deep level.
These feelings included shame, rage, terror and sadness. She ultimately reached an experience of genuine compassion, for herself as a little girl, and finally even towards her parents. Her repertoire of emotions expanded dramatically. She came to revel in her own sensuality and sexuality. She came fully alive, before my eyes.
2. Psyche and Soma
Diabetes and Parkinson’s Disease have profound emotional effects. Reciprocally, emotional states have a major impact on the manifestations of these physical conditions. Much work in the therapy has had the goal of helping Sophia to maintain her physical and emotional homeostasis.
At times, I coordinate her care with other treating physicians. Doing so is both good medical practice as well as an opportunity to model appropriate symbolic parenting.
Psychotropic medications are utilized to stabilize Sophia’s mood.
3. Psyche and Spirit
Sophia’s sexual abuse, and more specifically her father’s perversion, led her to question her faith. She felt abandoned by God, the Father. She underwent a protracted “dark night of the soul” (St. John of the Cross).
As she healed her psychological wounds, Sophia’s spiritual life, has blossomed. She has developed a vivid, direct personal relationship with Jesus and Mary (the Divine masculine and feminine principles).
Sophia has internally reaffirmed her vows. She has rededicated herself to minister to those in need, within her community. She has found and is maintaining an appropriate balance between nurturing herself and caring for others. She experiences the indestructibility of her own spirit.
Last week, Sophia said to me, “Thomas Aquinas wrote that contemplation yields illumination only when one gives to the world.”
It was in this context that Sophia decided to authorize the dissemination of her life story. She prays that doing so might illuminate the path of healing for others.