Compassion, hope, and forgiveness are central in a relationally-focused, integrative psychotherapy. These three areas of therapeutic involvement are frequently in my mind attention when I am carefully listening to my client’s narrative. I am continually monitoring my expressions of empathy and desire to be compassionate so that I am affectively attuned to the client’s internal experiences. I want to emotionally connect with my client but I am also cautious that my expressions of compassion not overwhelm my client by invoking more emotional stimulus than he or she can internally process. Affect attunement is always a challenge because it requires a moment-by-moment emotional balance of my affect in resonance with my client’s affect.
I want to infuse my clients with a sense of hope. Hope is the antidote to despair because it provides us with direction and enthusiasm. Yet, I want to make sure that I am not offering “hope” as a panacea but that the “hope” we share together is realistic and vitalizing. Hope, and the accompanying sense of well-being, is based on the realization that a fully-lived life is a process of learning and growing from each and every experience.
Forgiveness is an important ingredient in a relationally-based psychotherapy. When working with my clients I want to make sure that any expressions of forgiveness are coming from the client’s desire and readiness to let the emotionally-consuming past be over. I do not want to suggest that they “forgive” before they are internally ready. The desire to forgive must come from the client’s sense of hope, a hope to be relieved of the burden of resentment. Forgiveness is transformative when the impetus for change is the result of our client’s realization that their resentment harms themselves, even more than the other.
Compassion, hope, and forgiveness. These are thee important elements of a psychotherapy relationship that are instrumental in the healing of the psychological wounds of neglect, stress, shame, and abuse. As psychotherapists we have a humbling and important mission.
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