Good Therapy is a Change in Scenery: Insights from the Other Side of the World

December 24, 2018 - 6 minutes read

Every once in a while, important insights for my known world reveal themselves from the most unusual of places. My recent trip to the Far East: Myanmar and Thailand gifted me with new insights and inspirations as a Jungian analyst. My mantra became:

Good therapy is a change in scenery.

In the safety of the therapist’s temenos (a beautiful Jungian term for the sanctity of the therapy space), patients meet the messages of the unconscious often for the first time. In meeting these unknown voices and images, our inner and outer worlds transform themselves into newness and rebirth. Yet the work is not easy. There is often suffering and pain, and it is not easy to break old, and no longer useful, habits and patterns. We need a change of scenery.

As a present for a special birthday, my family “cooked up” a last-minute trip. I was sent to join our middle-daughter in the midst of her own pre-University journey to the Far East. We spent over a week in Myanmar (formerly Burma) and a few days in Thailand. On this trip, my scenery changed drastically. I met the unknown adventures of two third-world countries.

It was here I faced an outer world that is slower paced and much simpler. I found my inner world deeply moved. I prayed on the rooftop in Bagan to a magnificent sunrise. Without my computer and other technology, I spent hours contemplating. I absorbed experiences of the simple life of villagers who lived and worked in houses on stilts on the banks of Inle Lake. I spoke to a grateful psychology department of wonderful people at Mandalay University. I also hiked past beautiful waterfalls to a small coffee producing village on the outskirts of Shang Mai. The local guides we met along the way helped us to see life with new inner eyes.

This life changing experience made me reflect upon the territory of depth oriented psychotherapy. Research shows that when we do the deep inner work in our psychotherapy, our life contains to transform itself years after the therapy experience. It is as if we have gained a new set of eyes for the world.

The temenos or therapy space becomes this new frontier for transformation.  Here, the patient is promised stability, safety, and confidentiality, but most of all, the patient gains an escort or guide in the therapist. With the wisdom and care of the therapist, we can bravely face the inner journey we call therapy. In an ideal world, the therapist and patient are not just “nice” to one another, they are genuine, real and honest. The inner suffering of woundedness from life becomes outer suffering in the room, but it is bearable when there are two to suffer together.  It is suddenly seeing life through new glasses.

What did I see through new lenses?  There are so many stories, but one piece of the journey stands out here.  My daughter and I took a several hours trip on Inle Lake with a guide in his long, narrow fishing boat.  Here we met the simple folk who worked on the lake with happiness and gratitude.  We observed an elderly woman in a small factory hut creating spools of thread for weaving from lotus. Most of us know the beautiful lotus flowers, yet this was the first time, I saw someone patiently and painstakingly breaking open the green stems to extract the filament. Using water and patience, the woman wove these filaments into string.  I then was privy to see the weaving and later the beautiful scarves and garments. Later I learned that each scarf is created from over 3000 lotus stalks.  And in this moment, I was reminded of a patience we have all but lost in our more modern world.

Through these two weeks of simplicity, meditation and beautiful scenes of nature, I learned to deeply relax. My inner scenery was changed to match the outward experience. I was truly invited to a journey. Therapy is another invitation to a journey; albeit a courageous and not so easy one.  Likewise, third world countries have their challenges of travel and primitive toilets and all sorts of other obstacles. Yet, with an escort, therapy offers a journey like no other.  We journey inside to meet Self and to become genuine.  The world then opens to us in a new and colorful way.

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