Journeying Toward Wholeness

The Journey…

How I Can Help | A Woman’s Midlife Journey | Male Turmoil at the Transition | Teenage Crucible | Suburban Life Issues | Trauma: Gathering Up the Fragments | Grief and Loss | When the Love Ends | Work and Life | Employee Assistance Programs

How I Can Help

I am frequently asked, “ What kind of clients come to see you, and what kinds of things do they talk about with you? ” I think that the best way to answer that question is to share some typical stories.

In a way, all the issues on the way to wholeness in a person’s life are interconnected. However, different issues come to the fore depending on the life circumstances and personality of the individual, and this is reflected in the stories that appear below, and in the unique story of each individual who comes to see me.

(PLEASE NOTE: Client confidentiality and privacy is a paramount concern. This material is based on substantive experiences in psychotherapy with clients. However, it has been generalized and identifying details have been changed or removed to safeguard the identities and personal information of clients. In some cases where information might be identifying, it has been changed, and composite cases have been created from interactions with two, three or more clients.)

A Woman’s Midlife Journey

“A”, a woman in her 40s came to see me as the result of the loss of an older female friend who was very involved in her life, and who she also described as “my guide and confidante”. This woman was a very special and significant mentor figure who embodied much of A’s understanding of what it is to be a woman. Her loss opened up a whole series of questions for A about her marriage, her career and the things to which she was devoting energy in her life. Did these things still matter to her? What did matter? What did it mean to be a woman who was past the midpoint of her life? Where could she find the close friendship and sense of meaningful connection to others for which she yearned? What was it that she really wanted and needed from life and other people?

Far from the stereotypical “buying a red convertible” image of mid-life, A felt hungry for more reality in her life, and recognized that she needed to look deeply at her inner life and her relationships. A and I explored her dreams and her deepest feelings, until she began to discover at first small sources of life, and the things that she really wanted to be doing in her life–the very things her whole upbringing and work culture told her were frivolous or even useless. As a naturally outgoing person who became more and more aware of her deep feelings, A. became aware of her need to be connected to others in ways that went beyond the often superficial contacts of the business world. Slowly, over time, she began to put her energies in new directions, and to feel new confidence in her true self and her deepest aspirations.

Top of Page

Male Turmoil at the Transition

“B”, in his mid-40s was a successful, intellectually-oriented lawyer, a natural-born problem-solver. B had started a prospering business consulting to other lawyers and government. One day, he woke up, got out of bed, and found himself in a very uncharacteristic panic. After years of working flat out, B realized that he couldn’t face one more day of going to his office.

Work had lost all meaning: B couldn’t imagine forcing himself through another day of it. While he was making a lot of money, what he was doing didn’t matter to him, and wasn’t making a great difference to other people either. In addition to the very stressful nature of B’s work, he also experienced a great dryness, and dullness. And while work took in a huge chunk of his waking life, the rest of his life was also full of a great deal of sterility. As he himself put it, “Where am I in my life?”, and the realization grew on him that “I’m a human doing, not a human being”.

What was missing? It didn’t seem that simply changing jobs was the answer, as no comparable job he could imagine himself doing seemed to offer any greater chance of fulfillment.

After analysis for some time, exploring his dreams and feelings, B began to understand the nature of his dilemma. “I’ve been ignoring the greater part of my self–what really matters to me, and what I really want for myself and my life!” He began to start to take feeling seriously for the first time in his life. Slowly, B. began to find his way into a different life–a life that went beyond workoholism and meeting the very conventional expectations that others, and he himself, imposed.

Today B’s life moves in a very different direction. He earns less money, but somehow the bills get paid, and he has what he needs. But, as he says, “I have something in my life that’s worth having! I have days that are full of colour and taste and life! It’s worth getting up each day!” And instead of neighbours to whom he merely waves at on the front lawn and mere business acquaintances, for the first time in many years, B has real friendships.

Top of Page

Teenage Crucible: “I’m Becoming an Adult. What Does It Mean? How Do I Get Into My Life?”

Meaning in life is an intensely personal matter. This is a question, ages old, that can become of critical importance at any age and season in life. It may well be that the “standard answers” which our social group and the mainstream of our society provide for us at that place and time don’t really meet our unique, individual needs. That is when life is calling us to find new sources of growth and energy, wherever we may be and whatever our situation.

As a contrast to the examples above, consider the example of a 16 year old young man, “C”. Raised in a very conservative evangelical Christian background, C. suddenly and unexpectedly had to confront the marital breakup of his parents, and the huge changes this brought for him and his younger siblings. Embroiled in extremely bitter divorce proceedings, both parents had very little time or energy for C at a time when he needed support. This raised deep questions about his identity, as marital dissolutions often do for all involved in them. Through a process of telling and understanding his story to a solidly supportive, non-critical other, and sharing his dreams, art and other products of his imagination, C came to a deeper, more solid sense of who he was, what he really valued, and what he wanted for his life.

Top of Page

Suburban Life Issues: Smart, Pretty, Well-Married and “Running Out of Gas”

“D” came to see me shortly after her 33rd birthday. She had a husband to whom she’d been quite happily married for 8 years, a 4 year old son and a 2 year old daughter. The family had an attractive home in a sought-after neighbourhood within Halton Region, and her husband, somewhat older than her, had a very successful high-level technical job with a large multi-national corporation headquartered in the GTA.

On the surface, D. was pretty and vivacious, and had every reason to feel good about the “good life” that she and her husband had created, and that she and her family shared. But it wasn’t quite that way. D felt that everything had gone gray, and that life had “lost its savour”. University-educated, D had given up a good career in sales when her son was born, to become a full time mother–a choice she felt sure about at the time. Now she found herself uncertain that any of the choices she had made in her life — to marry N., to give up her job and stay home, to have kids — were really right for her. It felt like the life had gone out of everything, and life, the exciting life she had hoped for in her teens, was rapidly passing her by. Worse than that, it felt to her as if there was no way to decide or to get what it was that she really did want.

D’s work with me consisted in part in exploring her feelings about the choices she had made, both rejoicing in their positive aspects, and grieving for the roads not taken. In time, through working with her dreams, artwork and other symbolic material, D started to find the beginnings of new creative directions. What began to emerge were new talents and abilities, and most importantly, the uncovering of new feelings, new thoughts, and a sense of new possibilities that she had not even begun to imagine. By sitting with these, discussing them and sifting them, over time D began to have a picture of the life that wanted to be lived in her, and the passion to reach for it.

Top of Page

Trauma: Gathering Up the Fragments

Trauma can take many shapes and forms, and can be unbelievably destructive of a person’s sense of themselves and of their trust in others and the world.

“E”, a woman in her early 40s, had to deal with the loss of her husband, a well-respected actor and writer, through suicide. Her husband’s death had occurred under circumstances that were undeniably personally devastating and traumatic. While she was now successfully working with a family therapist and her 3 young children on family issues, E did not feel that this work was addressing the range of powerful feelings and emotions, and the plain despair in the wake of this loss. Together, E and I slowly explored her feelings, which at first, were just blankness and shocked numbness. As time went by, E and I delved more and more into what revealed itself as a deep sense of betrayal by life and found, emerging from the most surprising place, hope. E began to feel that there were resources inside she could draw on that would allow her to go on, even in the midst of her pain, and to start slowly to trust and to build close relations with others again.

Top of Page

Grief and Loss: Is There Any Way Forward?

“F”, a woman in her 50s, lost her spouse, “Y”, quite unexpectedly through a tragic workplace accident. Y was a very outgoing businessman, involved in local charities, who knew many people, and was very well-liked in his community. With his loss F began to realize in a profound way how much she had grown to depend on him for her connection to the outer world. His death confronted her with an overwhelming experience of loneliness, despair and deep disconnection from her community and the life going on around her.

As we worked together, F began to experience the emergence in her dreams of a figure who was the connection with her own outgoing aspect, and her own unique self. This inner life had been pushed deep within her by an extremely critical early family experience, which had carried into her adult life in the form of very hostile, critical inner voices. With time, F began to develop an increasing confidence in her own ability to be outgoing, and in the fact that she was an interesting person whom other people could experience as someone they wanted to know on much more than a superficial level.

As she re-connected with the world through involvements that mattered to her, and new friendships, F began to value that inner self that she had had to submerge for so many years. She began to have a new deeper appreciation of herself, her own inner life, and her own uniqueness. Slowly, being alone with herself began to lose its terror, and, along with new social relationships, she could even begin to enjoy time spent alone with a fascinating and surprisingly multi-facetted person — herself.

Top of Page

Marital and Relationship Breakdown: When the Love Ends

G was a 35-year old man in a high-pressure role in the service centre of an upscale auto dealership. Z, the spouse of G, began to withdraw more and more from the relationship, after a 12-year marriage. At first, G experienced Z’s emotional withdrawal from the relationship with ever-increasing foreboding and even panic. Z spent more and more time at work, and it eventually came out that she was having an affair with a co-worker. Finally Z ended the relationship with G by simply telling him that she didn’t care anymore, and that she needed someone who was more vibrant, intelligent and interesting. This came as a crushing blow to G, who had tried to devote himself to his marriage and family, and who had identified himself above all as a family man.

After this rejection, questions of “Who am I?” “What do I have to offer anyone?” and “What do I have to offer myself?” came to the fore for G. When he came to see me, G was in an acutely depressed state, wondering if there was anything of value in his life, or in him. Together, over time, we explored the depths of this depression, exploring his sadness, anger, and ultimately his feelings of humiliation and betrayal. In his dreams over time, symbols of new life and rebirth began to emerge, and G gradually found the confidence to reconnect with old friends, make new friends, and enter into dating and, ultimately, a new relationship.

Top of Page

Work and Life: If I Lose My Job, Who Am I?

H was in his late 40s when he came into my office. “I seem to be getting angry a lot lately”, he told me, “and it seems to be getting more frequent, and more intense. That just isn’t me: I’m not an angry guy.” When we began to look at where these spontaneous outbursts of anger might be coming from, it came out that H had worked for the same employer in progressively more responsible positions for well over 20 years, rising to a very respectable middle management role. However, 8 months previously, he had been laid off. “I know its part of the working world today” he told me, “I know that no job is secure, and that you have to stay flexible, and not be wedded to one employer.”

In fact, on one level, H had a very well-developed and business-like approach to the whole matter. When he was let go, he had quickly used his business sense and people skills to land another job in a completely different line of work–no small feat for a man of his age in today’s competitive, youth-oriented work world. But the trouble was, his outwardly calm, philosophical, business-like attitude didn’t stop his fists and jaw from clenching every time one of his former employer’s fleet of trucks went by on the street. Nor did it stop his feelings of rage, and his sense of being devalued, every time he had to interact with employees of his former company, which he frequently had to do in his new job. In addition, H was having a lot of trouble sleeping, and his relationship with his spouse was deteriorating badly.

As we explored this whole area more, it became clear that there was a whole other level on which H was reacting to his job loss, which, at first, his business training told him, was “soft” and sentimental. The job loss took away some benefits and pension that H had been relying on, meaning that he would need to stay in the workforce for several years longer than he had planned. And his new job meant more difficult working conditions for less salary. But, worse than that, H’s job loss had taken away his identity.

H had had a real feeling of accomplishment in having risen to the position that he held in the organization. He felt he was seen as a capable individual respected by his peers, who was making a valuable contribution, in a firm where his father and his uncle had both worked for virtually their whole working lives. H remembered going to his father’s office as a boy, and feeling pride in his father’s role with the firm. Now H felt almost as if, in losing the firm, he had lost a parent. And after giving the firm 110 per cent, and grueling hours for year upon year, at nights and on weekends, H felt deeply betrayed, and no amount of business training could make that feeling go away.

H and I worked with these feelings for some time. Through artwork and through his dreams, gradually a deeper sense of self began to emerge, that was much more H than just his work role. He began to be able to find his own answers to questions like, “What do I really want?” “What do I really value?” and “Who is really important to me?” Gradually, he began to develop new interests and new passions, and new ways to find love and respect from others. And above all, H came to respect those parts of himself which had been in the background for so long, and to make them a growing part of a full, rich life.

Top of Page

Employee Assistance Plans (“EAP Plans”): They Promise a Lot — Do They Deliver?

Psychotherapists who do EAP work are almost always required to use “short-term therapy” approaches to helping their clients. Clients usually have a maximum number of meetings, often 5 to 8, with a psychotherapist who is approved by the EAP provider.

Short term approaches can provide some assistance with very limited, narrowly- and rationally-defined goals. However, real in-depth change, involving deep changes to the way the individual relates to his or her inmost self, or to others and the world, is simply not facilitated by this kind of approach.

The trouble is, what the EAP provider sees as the most cost-effective solution to the client’s needs, and the direction in which that provider may require the therapist to go, may not align very well with the actual, unique client’s real needs. In frank moments, therapists working in EAP environments may admit to colleagues that they know this, and that they have various coping techniques that they use to try and get around the constraints imposed by EAP contracts. In my opinion, good, well-intentioned therapists are often forced into a dilemma: to either compromise their understanding of the client’s real needs; or, to be less than frank with the EAP provider about the work being done, and so to try and ensure that the client’s needs get met.

I prefer to be clear from the outset that my sole commitment is to the client sitting in front of me, and to his or her long-term growth and wholeness as a human being. Therefore, I make it clear to every client that I see, that, while I’m prepared to adjust my fees in situations of real financial need, I do not work for EAP providers or insurance companies.

My advice to anyone embarking on psychotherapy would be: If you want a truly transformative and healing therapeutic experience, a process overseen by an EAP provider cannot be your sole, or even your main source of support.

Top of Page