April 16, 2017
Easter and the Therapeutic Process: The Rest of the Story
Whether you are Christian or not, Easter is the time for hope. Whether one is Christian or not, Easter and spring’s arrival is a time of rebirth. Nature re-awakens from its winter slumber and beautiful flowers adorn the once barren trees. The living floral displays, along with warming temperatures, combine to lift our spirits from the deathly cold of winter. Likewise , one does not have to be Christian to be inspired by Easter’s enduring metaphor: the discovery of new and unexpected life which arises after horrendous pain and loss.
Easter is also the perfect time for a pastoral counselor to talk about how psychotherapy shares Christianity’s optimism toward healing and transformation. Indeed, the joy of Easter shares the same optimism and conviction upon which the psychotherapeutic process rests. The good news for those who seek emotional and relational healing is that the pain of anxiety, depression, emotional trauma, relational strife, addiction and other psychological disorders is not permanent and that one can be made whole again to live a new and more meaningful life.
For those who are struggling, however, the good news of Easter is difficult to believe. Some churches have simply moved too quickly from Jesus’s personal suffering on Good Friday to the jubilation of Easter Sunday. In so doing they have glossed over the pain of the in- between Saturday, the day after Jesus’ death when the disciples were overwhelmed with despair and grief.
Sadly, I think the importance and meaning of the darkness and pain suffered by the disciples on that forgotten Saturday has been neglected by many. Ironically, it is that dreadful Saturday (metaphorically speaking) where many of us live. If faith or therapy is to be meaningful and transforming, it must include and learn from the pain, as well as the joy, of this timeless story.
One of the distinguishing aspects of Pastoral Counseling from other types of therapy is that it understands that being with and learning from a person’s pain is central to the healing process. Pain and death , rather than absurdities to be avoided, are elements which belong in the overall pattern and inform the ultimate meaning of a person’s life.
That said, it is obvious that an authentic experience of Easter is complex. It means that, in order to get to the joyous celebration of new life and meaning, one must first, must accept and work through the pain and grief inflicted by loss and death.
Another striking similarity between the Easter’s message and psychotherapy, is its dynamic process. It is also important to understand that neither the restoration of faith, after having lost it, nor emotional healing is a one- time event. The cross and resurrection are metaphors for life’s ongoing process of loss and recovery. These religious symbols express the mysterious dynamic of losing and regaining, our sense of hope and trust in God’s ultimate purpose in life. Likewise, with emotional healing, the overcoming of psychological wounds is a time of boundless joy but it is a joy which has learned from past trauma and which provides lessons for coping with future hardships and trials.
Happy Easter, everyone ! May this day be a moment spiritual reflection and healing for you and yours.
Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow A.A.P.C.