I recently attended a workshop where I deepened in my understanding of the importance of nonviolence in therapy by experiencing its opposite. A facilitator without any training in human psychology or therapeutic ethics, who has positioned himself to train healers in how to work with grief, approached his “client” (a volunteer from among the workshop’s participants) from a place of arrogance and control. He was the Healer, she was the Broken One. When the client answered his questions about a very personal and tender life experience, he called her answers “trite” and probed until he got the responses he wanted. When she objected to his use of a sexist construct in how he was framing her experience, he stated that her “resistance” was evidence that he had chosen the right words, that her being triggered was proof of his theorem. When tears welled in her eyes, he failed to tend to her immediate experience and instead spoke to the other workshop participants about how “someone who is not ready for healing cannot be healed.” He completely ignored his seat of positional power and failed to tend to the human being in his care. She and I found the courage to walk out together, fully aware that our unwillingness to accept this aggression would stand as further proof of our “emotional instability” and “lack of openness to let go.”
“Violence in therapy is not just deliberate, physical harm. It is a failure to accept the whole person who is client, a person with his own story, her own ideas, images, needs, wishes, capacities, pace. Violence is being too much stuck in yourself and your own agenda to really be healing for another.” ~Ron Kurtz
Nonviolence in the practice of psychotherapy is an attitude held by the therapist that sustainable progress cannot come from force, that the subtle tendencies of our hearts and minds are too intelligent, too complex, too agile to yield to the imposition of someone else’s agenda (in this case, the therapist’s). It is sitting with patience, reverence, and curiosity in the presence of one who may appear shelled-up or guarded but who undoubtedly is a harbinger of great wisdom.
It is my great sadness that such abuses of power and violations of human integrity occur within the field of psychotherapy. It is my prayer that all beings find the courage and strength to see through such mechanisms of control, to trust their own inner guidance, and to find helpers on the path who respect their dignity and inherent intelligence.