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How love heals: Kindness and acceptance in the therapeutic relationship

“And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.” Raymond Carver.

I have been thinking about the qualities the therapist would have, to help bridge that gap between shame and hope. One of which I am certain of, in my experience anyway, is tenderness. There are subtleties of difference in the way the word is used. Tender after a conflict, tender towards loved ones, a tender spot on my arm, you are touching a tender spot in me, a tender conscience, at a tender age. Here is a word, which means both vulnerable and warmly affectionate, easily crushed and merciful, not tough and sympathetic. It seems to include both weakness and strength, great fragility and great constancy. For me, tenderness is about acceptance, and it communicates that suffering and healing are interwoven; it is without shame, because it is experienced as a form of love.

The psychotherapist Ian Suttie, saw human beings motivated primarily by the need and desire for companionship and love. He saw hatred and shame as frustration in the search for love. Sutie complained about what he called the ‘taboo on tenderness,’ and that there is a general aversion in society to expressions of tenderness. Suttie believed that psychotherapy provides an opportunity to restore lost or damaged capacities to find companionship and love. He liked to quote Ferenczi’s saying, “it is the physicians love that heals the patient", and he felt that this position had great potential. Suttie believed that all mental illness comes from a place of social relatedness. He claimed that psychotherapy involves “the overcoming of the barriers to loving and feeling oneself loved", (Suttie 1935: 53-54).

In this sense, therapy provides a developmental second chance, and may allow the client through the experience of finally being met, held and seen, a chance to learn that they are a worthy and worthwhile human being.

How to love: Try a little tenderness – a look at the idea of love in the therapeutic relationship.

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