The Power of Reparative Therapeutic Relationships

Jun 11, 2022Counseling0 comments


When I was twelve, I had this really powerful insight, that for me was kind of like: Oh my gosh I have discovered the meaning of life! I just had this deep knowing, I’m sure there were circumstances that led up to this insight, but I just remember walking home from school… even as I think about it, the memory makes me feel really tender, because it still feels very true to me. I just had this knowing that like: oh we are here on earth to connect, and it’s all about relationships, it’s all about our connection and engagement and experiences with others. I just I just felt it as very true, deep, deep in my heart and deep in my core. I’m not proclaiming that this is the universal meaning of life, but it does definitely resonate, still continues to resonate with me.

And since then, I’ve sort of realized that it’s not just our relationships with people. Primarily,
I believe that it’s around our relationships with other people, but it’s also our relationships with animals, our relationships with the natural environment; just that experience of me and the other, and the relationships we experience in duality.

Relationships tend to be very core to our mental and emotional distress.

Relationships tend to be very core to our mental and emotional distress. They tend to trigger a lot of mental and emotional distress, such as anxiety and depression. They tend to be the dynamic in which we act out different patterns of behaviors that lead to self-sabotage. As therapists, we tend to focus a lot with people on working with relationships. We are all kind of stumbling around bumping into each other, asking this question: Am I worthy?

And connected to this question is this need that we come into the world with, this longing to feel seen and longing to be loved as the unique expression that that we are as human beings. And many of us do experience feeling seen, and many of us don’t experience enough of it.

In my experience working with adolescents I feel that our culture has overall is lacking around creating environments where our children grow up feeling genuinely seen. They are longing for these experiences of being seen within the community context. Living in the nuclear family and living in a culture where we are increasingly engaging with objects as opposed to people, there’s just less opportunities for children to be seen from many different perspectives, which gives us this sort of sense of gratification and sense of empowerment around who we are; when we are being seen from the perspective of, our parents and then our grandparents and aunts and uncles, cousins older and younger. It is really important to also feel seen by our friends and community outside of our family, this becomes increasingly important developmentally once we get to the around 12, we need that outside of the family reflection as well.

So, our children in our society, they do get a lot of this in school and in communities and that’s beautiful, yet there are also a lot of barriers in our society for children to feel fully seen and to have the themselves reflected back through a spectrum of different perspectives. Many of us, both in adolescence and also in adulthood, are still longing to feel unconditionally loved while being fully seen.

One of the things that I find really powerful about therapy is that the vulnerability within the therapeutic dynamic, where the therapist is able to really see the individual that they’re working with, and see them in a way that is not through a judgmental lens, but rather is through a lens of discernment (the distinction there between judgment and discernment is that judgment has this idea of good and bad and is more either moral or worthy not worthy; whereas discernment is like oh yes, I see that you have this this pattern and it has this impact, or, you have these behaviors and it has this impact). It can be incredibly reparative to be in a therapeutic relationship where you feel unconditionally worthy and cared for during the exposure of the vulnerability of being seen, so that you become more comfortable with being seen within the therapeutic relationship, and you see that it’s possible to be seen and to also be worthy of admiration and worthy of experiencing joy and experiencing connection and experiencing all of the aspirations that you aspire towards. And that can then transfer into other areas of peoples’ lives where they show up more authentically and are willing to be seen. And in the willingness to be seen, and in that authenticity, people tend to enhance their connection with others. They tend to go deeper in their connection with others and start to get that deeper level of feeling seen and loved that they have been longing for.

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