by Beatriz Dujovne
This book is about a woman in grief.
The woman is also a psychologist, an author, a dancer.
She enters psychotherapy to grieve and to rebuild herself from the ashes of her loss. In the narrative which forms most of this book, you will see her as a regular woman groping through the oddness of her story.
The process of therapy I portray here offers a counterexample to most of the approaches to grief which I encountered and studied in the United States. Its only agenda was to help me with voicing the ineffable, experiencing what I did not know I had inside me, and reliving horrors that were trapped in my body.
Mainstream approaches that thrive in our American culture focus on the correction of faulty cognitions; other methodologies treat behaviors that can be observed and quantified. Parallel to these mainstream paradigms lies the humanistic approach, an umbrella term that covers a range of modalities practiced by professionals with diverse degrees.
Contrary to the cognitive-behavioral approaches, my sessions provided me with a nonjudgmental environment, where every emotion, without exception, was welcomed and even elicited. With my therapist’s skills and my commitment to search for my inner truth, we unveiled unconscious conflicts when they impeded my progress. I improvised my own dance of grief as I discovered it, and as many bereaved patients discover in their own ways once they find the same enabling environment and the guidance of a wise therapist.
Mainstream therapies most easily available in the United States navigate conscious experiences. Psychoanalytic psychotherapy, less known and less used in the United States, is a form of in-depth talking therapy that aims to bring unconscious emotions and conflicts to awareness. Trying to choose a wise therapist trained to resolve unconscious conflicts is difficult in this culture.
Not necessarily. I did not want to be treated by a “specialist in grief.” Nor did I want to be taught “how to cope.”
My world had collapsed. I felt like a stranger to myself. I wanted an empathic generalist who could address the depths of raw emotion residing in my heart and my viscera. I needed expert guidance for performing the creative act of reinventing myself.
In our first-world country, our minds are not generally open to seeking therapy when a major loss occurs; it doesn’t cross people’s minds to seek help after a major loss. It doesn’t seem like a realistic option until well after recalcitrant symptoms have already developed either in our bodies or our minds as a result of unresolved bereavement issues—that is, when it is too late. And once it is too late, we often receive prescriptions for psycho-chemicals instead of human help.
I escaped our cultural “do it yourself” and “think positively” ideology of this culture. I went to my birth city in that other America, that continent in the south—a city where most therapists are trained in psychoanalytic psychology and in the workings of the unconscious. I placed myself in a culture where it is natural to seek therapy for the grieving person and for whole families, including children—and not after the moment of crisis, but before intractable conditions develop.
Yes. The monumental dislocation we experience after the earthquake of losing someone is an identity changer. It wipes out our worldview and leaves us disoriented in ways we cannot prepare for. To emerge from the ashes of loss with the ability to embrace life and to tap into our creative resources requires expert assistance from therapists who have an optimal emotional distance from us. I recommend therapy for significant losses—without exception. Why wait until the house is on fire to buy a smoke-alarm? Why shoulder your burdens alone and walk the rest of your life under their weight?
Yes. My hope is that the narrative in this book can offer empathic resonance and new insights, and can open new paths to individuals grieving or facing the oncoming death of loved ones.
Therapy can give you that other set of eyes, that other set of ears, that other human contact—the most natural way to find ourselves and our sense of wholeness.