Here's the fourth installment from my training class on the Stages of Healing that I taught to prospective therapists a while ago. Readers will note that the stages of healing in therapy move along with what should be the natural stages of our development.

If a person in therapy has developed basic trust and formed a genuine alliance with her therapist, has uncovered his inner beliefs and faced the childhood traumas they were based on without any glossing over, and finally, if she has freed herself up emotionally and physically, this person has broken through her character structure. This is an incredible and heroic accomplishment! If entering into therapy is reminiscent of the initial crisis of being born in a desperate state of need, then breaking free of one’s character structure is like the experience of being “born again”, only this time into a healthy, loving environment.
This time around, the newly “born” person’s basic trust stays intact, because the patient has now become her own loving parent. So, the person can go about the business of exploring life, just like a well-loved and secure baby does, outside of the inhibiting armor of a defensive structure. Stimulation and sensations in the internal and external worlds are experienced as new again, and, as such, are felt to be both exciting and frightening at first. Just as the newborn child needs to learn how to walk and talk and orient himself to life on planet Earth, a newly opened adult needs to re-learn how to do those things outside of the cramped confines of an inhibited life and contracted or de-energized body.
Also like an infant, who doesn’t have an “identity” based on roles or images yet, a newly released adult has a much more fluid and undefined sense of self. At first, many people at this stage of therapy “complain” that they feel “lost” or say, “I don’t know who I am anymore”, or “I don’t know where I’m going.” This feeling is not “replaced” with a new identity, however. Instead, the person, over time, gets used to living more like a “spirit”, free of the limited notions of a clearly defined “self”, and free from rigid ideas about space and time. More and more moments of exhilarating freedom and a humble but genuine self-confidence begin to infuse the person as a result.
Finally, like a baby who has no conception of the past or future but is totally in the moment, focused only on the immediate input to its five senses, the free adult is once again a sensate being, connected to the now. The richness of physical life and the importance of pleasure become clear. Judgements about one’s desires fall away. Ruminating about the past and worrying about the future no longer occupies the mind. The actualized adult’s ego is “repaired”, and assigned to its proper functions of observing, mediating and remembering, instead of controlling, punishing and suppressing.
This stage of therapy is a time of getting used to expansive influxes of energy, and once again, as in infancy, it is a time of feeling emotions and sensations in one’s body intensely. The therapist needs to explain that the feelings of fear the patient is having now are not regressive, “old” feelings, but rather, they are appropriate, natural feelings of fear that anyone on a new adventure has. The therapist can reassure the patient that he or she will no longer be paralyzed by strong emotions, and that there is no longer the possibility of regression. This could take time, but now, for the person at this stage, time is an ally. The patient who has broken through his character structure has re-ignited his natural healing process and will only “get better” with the passage of time. This person will truly “age gracefully.”
Inevitably, at this time in the person’s development, sexual gratification and creative expression become paramount issues for the patient. No longer suffering “neurotically” (unconsciously repeating childhood scenarios symbolically over and over again), the patient now becomes focused on the adult needs to share deep intimacy and pleasure with another and to fulfill what Erikson called “generativity”, the desire to give back to the world and the next generation through creative expression. This will often be a time, regardless of the patient’s age, of going back to school, changing careers, and exploring one’s sexual nature, including for many, “learning” how to enjoy sex joyfully, without guilt or shame.
The therapist is mostly engaged in supportive counseling and “teaching” at this time, no longer needing to focus on uncovering hidden images and beliefs or unblocking feelings in the body. This patient knows her own story now and he can cry or laugh fully when the moment calls for it. Meditation and journal writing are very valuable tools to facilitate the process at this stage of development, because just as the body has to re-adjust to free living, so does the mind. Habitual ways of thinking and behaving will assert themselves occasionally, particularly under stress or fatigue, but since the person is now operating consciously, and not locked in her body, subtler techniques will bring him back to a centered, balanced place in shorter and shorter amounts of time.

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