I was a child of the South Asian diaspora, born in London, England, abandoned by my father and separated from my mother for long periods of time after she took me to live with my grandparents in another city while she returned to work in London. These early losses - of any genuine sense of a homeland, and of both parents - were bereavements to child-me. I was not to understand this, however, until forty years later - in therapy.
As a person of colour in the age of late stage capitalism, having lived the aftermath of the colonial experience, having undergone the emotional castration required of the male-coded by psychological patriarchy and then having found my way back to myself, to recovery and healing - and now, recognizing that there is work to be done out there, the work of healing, through therapy - I believe that this work is built upon the foundation of unconditional positive regard, for others, and for myself. Because without this unconditional love and compassion for my own self, what chance is there of putting its healing power at the service of others?
Being grounded in a place of unconditional love and compassion for my own self is not and will never be a fait accompli, but instead is a continual doing, a lifelong practice to go hand in hand with the learning and doing of this other practice - of being with clients, in session. This lifelong practice touches each of the five domains of life: the physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and spiritual aspects of existence. For me, the emotional and the spiritual are all but the same thing, for feeling, as I have come to understand it, is the live wire, the manifestation of the animating force in all things, the current through which that most imminent of information - the life force itself - is carried. The physical, and the cognitive domains both, to me, reflect this central domain: the physical being the flip side of that same coin, the material manifestation - and the cognitive being the play of its shadow on the wall. As for the social domain, well - integrating this aspect has been integral to my journey. Once I began to understand the socio-political-historical context of my life, I discovered the harm that had been done to me and the harm that I was perpetuating. This understanding has taught me to walk the path with heart, by which I mean to walk the path with care - for myself, and for others.
My intention now is centred around non malfeasance - to do no harm, to live an anti-oppressive life and to try to be a force for good in this world. This has entailed divesting from people and situations with and in which the barriers to living this way are too great. This has also entailed continuing to do the work of learning about such harms, in order not to perform them - to continue to hold myself accountable, to continue to learn about and engage with the political, and to understand through this how best to live with compassion for others.
Living with care, both for myself and others, equates to living in accordance with my values. And living thus means feeling, for feelings are the information of living, and a heightened awareness of my feelings is a heightened awareness and connection - to life itself. Ultimately, all that any of us brings to our lives, our relationships, and our work - is our own self. Self-care, meaning self-awareness, is therefore a non-negotiable practice, without which we can be of no use to ourselves or to those we care about. But too many of us learn - often unconsciously and in response to painful experience - not to care for ourselves. We may have discovered that our own needs were not as important as those of the people around us, growing up – and therefore developed an internal way of operating that puts ourselves last. Therapy can be a proving ground – a space in which to learn about this unconscious system that causes so many different symptoms and difficulties, and a space in which to unlearn it.
Thoughts on Therapy and Mental Health