Is there a place for love in psychotherapy? Is it even appropriate to discuss psychotherapy and the concept of love?
The therapeutic situation is a boundaried relationship where two people devote their attention to the same thing – the recovery, development, learning, encouragement and expansion of the one who is the client. In order to be able to hold the space for this, the one who is the therapist must be fully present, disciplined, and open to receive and understand what may be discussed or arrive in the space.
Being co-present together and sharing this intense focus helps bring more awareness, understanding and the possibilities of new directions in life. This type of being co-present is in itself transformative. Is this love? In a sense it is, but it is not personal love or any form of possession or control of the other. There’s a connection that may be set aside when it’s no longer needed. If we can say love is focused positive attention, the power of love resides in receiving the care and attention of one who is focusing upon you and your wellbeing, but in a way that is neutral and with no agenda about how they want you to be. And for this, sound professional boundaries and ethics are essential.
Love and recognition of yourself can be the phoenix that arises from the ashes of your failed relationships or your neglected childhood, or the years of self neglect while you looked after everyone else. It is the return of true hope, in realising you are worth loving and you are so much more than what you have been pushed into by your circumstances. Knowing this, you can rise above your difficulties, you can take steps forward into a brighter life, in realising your unique sense of Self which is your direct connection to love, courage, compassion, vitality and all that is.
Were you born into a world where at least one person loved you unconditionally and absolutely? Without love, life lacks the glue or substance that brings meaning and connection, that makes challenging circumstances bearable. If you received this kind of love, even for a short time, you will have internal resources you can draw on.
Love is reaching out to yourself, to the child within who felt unloved – accepting this child just as they are and providing for their needs. The inner child wants to be let in to your heart. All the chaos and confusion you may have experienced has been a way of banging on the door to wake you up, to tell you that learning to love yourself is essential if you are to be happy and thrive. Waiting for someone else to do it for you has not worked, but you can learn to do it for yourself when someone supports you to show you how.
Boundaries are also necessary alongside love. They provide clarity and support a clear-minded focus. (The simplest boundary is “no”). A boundary can also be the hand holding on to the string of the kite so it can continue to rise up and keep on flying. Boundaries and ethical behaviour protect the vulnerable and maintain the wellbeing and safety of all concerned, helping you to meet your obligations to look after yourself and others, but without overstretching, sacrificing or mis-treating yourself.
“Love” does not appear to sit well with modern commerce, transactions, treatment, or even therapy. It sounds lame, perhaps needy or naieve, or just a romantic notion. But love is the substance or vitality that makes a human good to be around, rather than anxious, awkward, unpleasant and self-obsessed. It’s what creates fulfilment and great relationships, wellbeing and peace of mind. Love is being aligned with who you really are and enables you to follow your heart and do what really lights you up. In a world that can feel empty and uncaring, there is still so much you can do to bring kindness and joy.