Through the eyes of a Friend

I want to tell you about the most interesting thing that happened in therapy with a client. I was working with a man who has experienced significant trauma in his life and we were doing a safe place visualization where he imagines a safe place and I ask him questions to enrich the visualization.

One of the questions I asked was “who is there with you”. He answered a friend, a childhood friend. This man reports having no friends and no close family, and no social support in his life but was able to go back to his childhood and find a loving and kind friend. When I asked him about this friend after the visualization I found out that he and his childhood friend both had a similar name.

What a discovery! Inside of himself was not just a friend, but a kinder, gentler, more accepting part of himself an alter ego of sorts, a companion to the blaming, negative “self” that has crept in to dominate his vision of himself accusing  of failure day in and day out. It is incredible what an experience with a good friend can do for a person, even if the friendship is no longer present. It is similar to the experience of the therapeutic relationship; it gives a person a chance to build an alternate reality than they are accustomed one that is trustworthy, and stable that can disrupt older patterns of thinking that have gotten a person or family stuck.

It reminds me of my and my friends personal journey with people in our neighborhood who struggle with addiction and have had abusive childhoods.  For many years we plod along, not perfectly, but trying our best to be loving friends to those who are not always easily befriended, and who need a lot more than we can give.  It can be easy to dismiss these relationships as of such a small value in their overall healing journey.

Afterall, our love for one another pales in comparison to the amazing love and forgiveness that God offers to each of us.  But for some reason or another God chose us to live in relationship with one another and be the bearers of His love for the world to each other.  It would seem a lot more effective that he could appear in visions with bright light and angels announcing his love to each person, but instead he works in mysterious, gentle, and sometimes quiet ways through our broken selves.

Let us find encouragement that through the loving gaze of a friend this man could feel love and acceptance that he would not otherwise feel toward himself, and that our commitment to love can go a long way.

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2 thoughts on “Through the eyes of a Friend

  1. The human imagination is an amazing faculty, is it not? We use it for good and for evil. We can envision the future, picture a remodeling project, plan a party, even have a friend. But we can also use our imaginations to become afraid of the future or to carry out sexual fantasies or engage our spouse in an imaginary argument that we always win. In my experience, which is certainly not unique, the imagination is extraordinarily, perhaps even surprisingly, powerful. Imaginary arguments raise blood pressure; sexual fantasies generate physical responses; imaginary fears prevent us from pursuing our goals. Eugene Peterson, in Reversed Thunder, The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination, invokes the notion of using a “sanctified” imagination for good purposes. He does not flesh out the idea on a practical level, but I have pursued it (and my practice is definitely not original with me; it is a practice that the saints of old wrote about a great deal.) I’ll give an example, based on Ps 63:1 (“My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.”). In this prayer, I literally harness the power of my wild imagination to see myself as a completely dry sponge with millions of empty, little holes. Then I imagine the love of God seeping into hole after hole, slowly filling me up. The affective response is surprisingly satisfying.My point is this: the strategy that you used with your client is not simply a technique reserved for the therapist’s couch. It is one that all Christians can and should use for their own spiritual health. The imagination is such a powerful faculty that we must harness its power to accomplish good, not evil. The reason I enjoy reading your blog is because you are helping me to reflect on my own practices and how they promote good psychological health… something that Jesus was after, as well. Note how often he said, “Blessed are…” Certainly, he was after far more than just psychological health, but right-thinking is a necessary pre-requisite. Dallas Willard translates Matt 4:17: “Rethink your life in light of the fact that the kingdom of heaven is now open to all.”By the way, how close are you to the line of violating therapist-client confidentiality? Just askin’. As someone who works in the medical field, this is an issue that I have to consider frequently, but I appreciate that the answers are not always straightforward.

    • Hi Rick,
      your comments provide a depth of reflection that is worthy of a post itself. THe Christian imagination- yes, can be used for good or for evil. As someone who was only recently introduced to the charismatic tradition, this is one thing they do well- that I have only recently become more comfortable in my spiritual walk. To imagine Jesus beside you, or imagine a beautiful place, it can bring such joy and awareness that is addition to the cerebral understanding of we have of God. Similar to the lectio divina that you are engaged in in your Ignatian exercises.

      As far as confidentiality- I endeavor to make my posts (the few that contain any reference to work) a composite of different individuals and situations to ensure confidentiality is kept. Thank you for this reminder as it is the cornerstone of our professional ethics.

      Blessings on your spiritual journey and learning, thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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