After 25 years of practicing, Dr. Leanh Nguyen poses this question as an offering to the consumer –to prime you to what you can have and to shape your intention toward this endeavor. But, first, what does “good” refer to?
“Good” is that which safe-guards human life and nourishes the other person’s humanity. The “good” in the offering of psychotherapy is not what you know about the human mind and its layers and dysfunctions, but how you approach that mind, that life, that being.
The “good” in real, deep psychotherapy is not a demonstration of clinical expertise or an exercise of the authority of the latest treatment du-jour, but Dr. Leanh Nguyen suggests that the ethics of curiosity, the practice of kindness, and the intention and commitment toward the other person’s struggle to live and to be human. Because THAT is what you are dealing with in the person who seeks therapy: A human being, who tries to make the most of her humanity, who struggles with all the trauma and beauty that being human entails, who seeks to make contact with another human being –even though he may insist that he needs help with his mood disorder or that he is upset about the divorce.
The “good” is then found in the curiosity, tenderness, and commitment that you bring toward the other person’s struggle in being human.
The “good” that one can do in psychotherapy is to keep their eyes on the effort to be human and my ears to the longing for connection, and to always keep in mind that this longing is what makes us human. Dr. Leanh says that it is the intentionality and commitment with which one can make the connection with the person –how respectful, committed, and wise can one be toward his effort to be fully human.
But psychotherapy is classified under healthcare. Its mandate is to treat mental illness. Herein is a fundamental problem.
Approaching a person through a mental disorder is reductionistic. It makes the task narrow and the aim deceptively simple. To get credentialed and reimbursed by “health” insurance, you must demonstrate your knowledge of mental disorders and prove your qualifications intending to an ill person.
But most people who come to psychotherapy these days are not mentally ill. People come into therapy because they have been hurt or are lost. Dr. Leanh Nguyen says that the source of this hurt is either the unpredictable, uncontrollable, ruthless blows of life, or the uncontrollable, incomprehensible cruelties of people. The Sufi poet Rumi said, “The wound is where the light enters.” People need help in deciding how to let the light enter their wounds and move on with the endeavor of being alive. They need support and companionship in deciding on how to live in this brief Life.
So, I see people struggle with the business of living. They need support in how to be human, how to be treated as a human, how to succeed at living as a human.
“I need to talk to someone.”
This phrase summarizes a basic, essential human need Dr. Leanh Nguyen describes. To talk, to tell your story, to make sense and meaning, to another human being, with another human. We need to do that in order to live as human.
“To talk to someone.” What does that “someone” in psychotherapy offer? What is the responsibility of that “someone” that you seek to “talk to” when you go into psychotherapy? Why go into therapy in order to “talk to someone”?
Dr. Leanh always ask people why they called her. It is imperative to start the conversation about their existential choice and to look for an entry into their longing for connection. People are conditioned to think that they are calling a specialist, a service provider. I want to remind them that they are fundamentally calling on a human being. And what they hope for about that human being in the therapy office says something about who they are trying to be.
What is the offering of that “someone” when you come to psychotherapy?
The “good” in psychotherapy happens when you encounter another human being who is trained in the recognition of woundedness and vulnerability, recognition of the glint of light that shines off the broken shards of your humanity. Dr. Leanh Nguyen asks who is committed to the practice of kindness, and who is unafraid in the wielding of tenderness toward your being? Who makes it her business, her dedication, to be curious about who you are, how you live, why you live, and who you are trying to become? And, most of all, who takes on the responsibility of supporting your effort to be as fully human as possible –who is fierce and tender about your task to be awake and alive to your wounds and longings.
That’s the “good” that happens in “good” therapy. It is “good” because such an encounter humanizes you. The recognition of your woundedness and your light, the companionship in finding and telling your story, the offering of kindness and tenderness, the unwavering, unflinching, un-judgmental loving curiosity toward your being–all these elements allow you to connect with who you are says Dr. Leanh, to re-affirm for you the right to ask to be treated as a human being, and remind you of the task, the pleasure, the challenge and rewards of being with another human being, not a mere specialist or a mere opportunity to “feel better.”
If you pay attention to that, if you don’t ask for that, if you’d rather sign on with a specialist of PTSD, depression, eating disorder, etc., then you are short-changing yourself. And you are colluding with the culture of commodification and dehumanization which reduces your humanity to a diseased condition, a code in the Diagnostic Manual and a reimbursement rate in the insurance tables. Then you might as well go to an app.
The good about psychotherapy is the connection with another human. The space to be treated as a human being, to chance to remind yourself and reclaim for yourself all the qualities and longings that make you a human being. Dr. Leanh Nguyen describes how that leads to the encouragement to accept nothing less.