At the centre where I did my psychotherapy training, students are required to be in group therapy for four years. The groups consist of two faculty members and 10 or more training therapists. Us trainees were expected to work as clients not as therapists. We dug into our relationship patterns and learned about others. Most of us considered it hellish at times.  It was certainly intense.  But it was the best possible training to work with clients.

When I began group, there were a few graduates in my group who continued to work on themselves for personal and professional development.

I remember one early session when a graduate described her deep wish to curl up in her home and not do anything. She was in excruciating pain. She was weak. She was ineffective, ignoring important things in her life.*

I was horrified. "I am on a path to mental health!” I thought, "I am heading away from pain, not towards it! How can someone like this work with clients???"

But my horror was not shared by my colleagues and the group therapists. I was struck by the level of respect and focussed attention the graduate received. The insightful comments. The empathy. The number of people who related to this pain.

Of course I related to it too. And I learned that day that it might be alright to share it.

Because of course the work this person did in group is exactly how this person could work extremely well with clients. Because she had access to the most painful parts of herself and could show them to others. Because she knew her own disturbance well. Because she knew pain well.

Often the destination doesn’t look like we thought it would or should. This is almost always the case in therapy.

And to this day I find it hard to bear.

The pain isn’t the end of the story, however. This person was in deep pain. But she also had the capacity for great strength and yes, even joy.

And here’s one more thing. Something I am thinking about a lot but not that clear on. The ability to feel our feelings and express them is a huge part of emotional growth. But it doesn’t end there. When we cut ourselves, when we have a surgery, when we break a bone or tear a muscle: our bodies heal. If they don’t we are not healthy. Emotional healing is also possible. It doesn’t mean that we can change the past. But we can put ourselves back together in new ways that make a difference.

So there are two things I am saying today:

There is strength in our vulnerability, in growing the capacity to feel and express ourself even when these feelings do not make us look good. Or when the beauty of them is so precious we can’t bear to show it. There is value in the practice of bringing all of ourselves to the world.

And - we are breathing in, eating, drinking, and in all other ways taking in something new all the time. Change is possible. Healing is possible.

We bring ourselves to the world and the world is around and in us.

I wrote that. And I felt shivers. And a shifting sadness in my heart. A reminder that despite all my wiring to the contrary, I, and you, and all of us. We are not alone.

*Details changed to protect confidentiality.

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