December 30, 2002
The Healing Environment - Part 3: From Individual to Community
The most important element in a healing environment is safety. When an organism feels that it is safe from abuse or neglect, it will automatically shift from defensive survival mode to healing mode. In this mode, the organism drops its protective shell and begins to express (press out) the toxic material it has endured. This material may be physical and/or emotional.
Since we are social beings, usually the first element in a safe environment is another person who accepts you as you are and supports the expression of your pain. This person can be a spouse, family member, or friend, but it is often within these relationships that our problems lie. When we do not feel accepted and supported by the people around us, we begin to look elsewhere - to doctors, clergy, workshop leaders, self-help books, gurus - and psychotherapists.
At times of crisis, we need to be treated with kindness and compassion so that the healing process can begin. Unfortunately, at these times of crisis, our need often outweighs the clarity of our judgment and we can easily choose helpers who are wolves in sheeps' clothing. To this end, professional helpers have developed a multitude of programs to certify who is safe and who is not. Certifications are displayed with degrees, letters, and diplomas so that "the helpless" can safely choose without too much individual inquiry.
Taking away the responsibility (power) of the individual to make informed choices is a dangerous practice. The concept of certification is good, but it does not work well in practice. Medical doctors (MDs) are some of the most highly certified individuals on the planet and yet in the United States they are the third leading cause of death. When it comes to sexual and other abuses, many doctors, gynecologists, dentists, psychiatrists, psychologists, priests, teachers, and professors have been known to misuse their professional status and power.
Certified professionals are just people, and certifications are only academic - none of them are based on emotional health or personal development. Certifications do not take into account whether health professionals suffer from depression, anxiety, phobias, sexual addiction, drug addiction, alcoholism, sadism, voyeurism - or whether they have other unique life problems that may affect their judgment.
When it comes to finding helpers in healing or anything else in life, it is better to make an informed judgment than to rely solely on the pre-judgment of certificates and degrees. If I want someone to renovate my house, I ask my friends for recommendations. If I can actually see the work that recommended individuals have done, that's even more reliable.
When choosing a therapist for emotional healing, recommendations from people you trust are important. Appraisals from their clients and colleagues are also good. I also recommend interviewing the therapist regarding all aspects of their own therapy, experience, training, and practice. It is also useful to take a few sessions to assess the level of safety and reliability that this new support person offers. It's better to be safe than to rush in and get hurt.
Once we have made a meaningful connection with a primary support person, our healing process wants to expand our safety net to include others. We will begin to see the limitations of the painful situations we are in - at work, at home, and within our social circle. We long to be part of a more loving, accepting circle where we can breathe a sigh of relief and just be ourselves.
Some people turn to church groups, spiritual groups, therapy groups, and support groups. Unfortunately, many have overt and covert rules of acceptance that must be met. Groups are often very loving until you do the "wrong" thing. Sadly, when this happens, it replicates the original neurotic family pattern of "being good" rather than being yourself.
Most groups in this society also operate under the general societal belief that emotions are to be controlled, not expressed. This, of course, is the fundamental reason we are ill. Perpetuating it in the name of "community" is not healing, it is simply large-scale repression.
Where do we find an honest, open, accepting community in which to heal? The only organized primal community I am aware of is the International Primal Association (IPA), of which I am a member. It is a vital community, but its members are sprinkled across the globe. Although email is a powerful medium, it does not replace the value of close physical contact. A community that can embody that represents an archetypal dream that many, including myself, still wish to realize.
At this time, however, I am not aware of any live-in primal healing community. It is therefore our challenge to create it.