Talking about difficult issues to a trusted confidante has likely been happening since we lived in tribes. As time progressed, various cultures created their own forms of therapeutic healing which before recently would have been religious or magical in nature. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that Freud brought what he called ‘the talking cure’ into the mainstream. Talking therapy has become increasingly widespread in the last century which has helped to somewhat dispel the stigma surrounding it. Nowadays you wouldn’t be considered mad or even unstable if you choose to see a therapist or counsellor.
The ubiquity of therapy can be attributed to the sharp increase in so called mental health issues in recent times. It’s a sad fact that so many people feel they can’t cope with life, and even sadder that they don’t feel support from their family or community. In fact, family issues and a lack of a community are some of the main difficulties many of us face.
As the saying goes ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ which speaks of our need to talk, to express ourselves, to be heard and understood. A huge industry has been created out of these needs; medications, therapy, counselling, retreat centres, rehabs, alternative therapies etc. It’s amazing that these options are available at all, as in days gone by you may have had a lobotomy or a hole drilled in your head to attempt a cure. Unfortunately, free or affordable therapy is scarce and waiting lists can be months or years long which can lead to tragic endings.
This therapeutic industry has professionalised the act of offering emotional support and insight and left ‘normal’ people feeling unqualified and scared to support each other for fear of getting it wrong. I believe that if more people were encouraged, empowered and guided to use their innate emotional skills to help others we could not only avoid a lot of suffering, but form deeper connections with those around us.
In many complex or severe cases a specialist may be completely necessary. Therapists and counsellors will often be far better equipped than most us to deal with difficult emotional situations due to their training and experience. Having said that, I’ve wasted plenty of money on therapists I wouldn’t let counsel a monkey!
Carl Jung said only the wounded can heal, and I’m yet to meet someone who is not wounded in some way. It’s those who are aware of this wounding and find their way through that are most able to help others. The people who’ve helped me most profoundly have had cracks in their own lives that allowed me a way in.
Through our own struggles we often find out what we need from others; love, care, understanding, support, and sometimes just for someone to simply listen. It’s shocking how often these needs go unmet, and how alone we can feel even when surrounded by people. These needs are universal and I’d argue that the ability to provide for them is too. So much of people’s suffering is caused by disconnection and the feeling of being alone and misunderstood.
In helping others we feel most useful and gain perspective on our own difficulties, but most of all we chip away at the huge mass of pain that exists in the world today. You never have to look far to find someone suffering and I’ve got no doubt each of us has something to offer.
By Alex Delfont