Journeying Toward Wholeness

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4 Ways the Orphan Appears in Individual Psychotherapy

June 17th, 2013 · 2 Comments · individual, individual psychotherapy, Psychotherapy

The experience of the orphan is surprisingly important for individual psychotherapy.  Why is this image so powerful for us?

individual psychotherapy

For those who come from stable family backgrounds, that might seem like an absurd thing to claim.  But let me try and show you what I mean.


To live as an orphan, is to feel completely alone in the world.  To feel that the world is not dependable or safe, and in particular, that there are few or no bonds with other people that can be depended on at any deep level.


The true orphan is one prevented from forming and relying on the bonds to parents and family that are so crucial in early life.

To be an orphan is to experience radical aloneness.  It is to experience radical vulnerability.

There are many people who genuinely don’t have parents.  Some actually don’t have living parents.  Others, many more, live the wound of profound abandonment, due to parental apathy, abuse or fundamental rejection.

And, all of us, in the process of individuation, will at times partake of orphan reality — where we are left feeling profoundly isolated and abandoned, with no resources to rely upon but our very own.

Eric Clapton sings of many kinds of orphan state in the song Motherless Child:

Forever Taking Leave (Always on the Verge of Departing).

As John Bowlby showed, one of the characteristics of those who, like orphans, have had weak or broken attachment to others in early life is that, very often, they can be ready to cut their connections to other people, places or situations at the drop of a hat.

When I reflect on this, I’m reminded of some lines from an old pop song by the Eagles:

“I’ve got this peaceful, easy feeling / I know you won’t let me down / ‘Cause I’m already standing on the ground”

The orphan part of our psyche is always ready to pull away, because it never truly feels like it is at home, or that it really belongs.

individual psychotherapy

Yearning for Home

Yet orphans continually yearn for home.  Symbolically, home represents a place of true belonging, to which a person is fully, fundamentally and irrevocably connected.

This yearning is deeply embedded in human psychology and biology, through 200+  million years of mammalian evolution.  It expresses itself in a vast variety of ways in human art, literature, music, religious symbolism and philosophy — and also, I note with interest, in baseball!

individual psychotherapy

To Really Come Home

All human individuals can can experience this orphan dimension to human existence — can, at times, feel incredibly alone and without a true home.  One of the key benefits of in depth individual psychotherapy is to enable the individual to have the sense of being at home in her- or himself, in one’s true nature.  Just what that means for any given individual is apparent as he or she takes his or her own journey into the experience of the orphan, and into self-understanding, and self acceptance.

PHOTOS: Attribution Some rights reserved muffet ; texas_mustang  ; Sister7     VIDEO: © 2007 WMG Motherless Child
© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)