"We'll do it gently" - My journey with Susanna
By Tali Geva
My first and beloved language which is my mother tongue is Hebrew. I use it for communication with my relatives, for my creative writing and for teaching Literature in courses for Hebrew speakers.
I have been living in Canada (Vancouver, BC) for five years, yet can't write my novels in my second language, English… may be in the future I'll be able to do so… But thinking about the experience I had with my psychologist Susanna, I found my thoughts flowing in their English channel. With Susanna I managed to overcome the instinctive recoiling occurs in me when I use dull and sometimes incorrect English, hence I did my psychological journey, one of the most important journeys one can do, using a language which is not originally mine and I am far from using it in the way I use my Hebrew as I write my novels.
This psychological journey had many similarities to writing a novel and that is why the challenge of using English was so big for me. So, I ask you, as I asked Susanna in our first session, please forgive my insufficient English.
Three years ago, as a mother and a grandmother at my early fifties, I finally stopped being a "Psychotherapy Refuser" as I had been all my life, and I decided to look for a therapist. This decision came after a stormy chapter in my life and I knew it was the time for treatment.
My two sisters are those who named me by "Psychotherapy Refuser". They are both therapists, one is an art therapist of the Jungian school and the other is a bibliotherapist, practicing a new branch of psychotherapy. They named me so because of my stubborn refusal to do a treatment, which they thought I should do. Still both of them have always shared with me their experiences in studies and work, so based on what I had learned from them, I had some idea of what to expect and what kind of a therapist to look for. I phoned a psychologist friend in Vancouver, who is also a Hebrew speaker and asked for his recommendations. "My therapist must be Jungian" I said to him, "this person must be older than me or at least at my age and I'd rather have a woman therapist who is a Hebrew speaker". I was not aware of myself being so demanding due to the huge fear I had of starting the treatment…
My friend had three recommended persons for me, two men and one woman; none of them was a Hebrew speaker, all three were at the right age and one was a Jungian art therapist, Susanna.
I was relieved: She is a Jungian art therapist, like my sister, if anything goes wrong I can rely on my sister to save me… "I'll take the woman therapist" I said to my friend, who then told me he had heard Susanna's presentation in a convention and was very impressed by her. "So… I'll have to do it in English" I sighed in Hebrew, feeling I was jumping into terrifying water. He said, "You can do it…" and I felt he sensed not only my lack of confidence to do it in English, but also my deep fear of the treatment.
Now I had to call Susanna but I was afraid.
People who know me may say that I am a brave person. Yes, in some aspects I am brave, but when it came to a psychological treatment I was the greatest of all cowards.
I knew that psychotherapy was a process in which I'd go into the depth of my soul and by doing that I would be able to treat the causes of pain and sorrow, depression, aggressiveness and other kinds of manifestation, caused by psychological problems. I also knew that talking to the therapist meant exposing personal details… Well, I did not have any problem with that. I was curious and excited about exploring my soul and I had no hidden secrets at all… so, why was I so afraid of seeing a psychological therapist?
Now, after three years of treatment, I know that I was afraid to expos my wounded soul, but I was not aware of it at that time.
For many years I used to have a random sharp pain in my soul which I could not bear. It was a kind of profound sadness mixed with paralyzing fear; it was not depression but it tasted like apathy.
I never thought about this pain in terms of injury or wounds, as a matter of fact, I was running away from it and repressed it. I did not see any connection between this illusive pain and the difficulties I had in my life, such as huge amounts of anger which from time to time burst out like a frustrated volcano… Sometimes, during a quarrel with one of my relatives or friends, as the fight escalated to violent loud language, I was flooded with frightening anger and an irresistible need to defend myself against a huge enemy... These were bitter and exhausting events, which sometimes ended disastrously for my relationships, all kinds of them.
Whenever this happened to me I told myself "the explication narrative" I had been telling myself for years, about the unfortunate circumstances of my life which brought these problems on me. Now my intuition told me, that in the journey I was going to start, I might find a different narrative and I might experience a lot of pain, which will be hard to bear… I might lose control and I will not be able to defend myself…oh, no! This was not for me… I could not let anyone cause me pain… I would not do it…
This fear was weird. I could always deal with all kinds of invasive medical treatments such as gynaecological or dental, but a psychological treatment… No… it was different… you can't see anything, you can't know anything… you can't even have a second opinion… no, no, it was too frightening…
I was afraid of "this woman", the therapist I have just chosen, and in my thoughts I did not call her by her name. I felt she already had some magic power over me, although I had not yet phoned her, and I did not know how to speak to her and what to say…. so, I went into her website to get the first impression. I prayed that she would be pretty… I mean, aesthetic, I mean… I prayed that I would like her look and voice.
On her website Susanna looked ok; I could not like or not like her look but when I heard her voice on the phone I knew I chose right. She had exactly the kind of voice I like: low and rich… It might seem childish and dramatic, but that is how I felt even if it meant that at my early fifties I had thoughts and feelings of a young girl… In a way I was a young girl in that situation.
So Susanna, my future therapist, whom I had not yet met, had a great voice and passed the first test, but this was an easy one. The more difficult test was when I e-mailed her to confirm the time of the first session. I wrote to her that I was afraid of the therapy, that it seemed to me like a surgery in which she was going to cut my soul with a sharp knife without anesthetization…
Susanna replied: "We'll do it gently".
For me this was an "A+" answer.
How can I describe someone (in English or in Hebrew) as beautiful, but not in the usual sense of this word? Aesthetic? Susanna looked more than aesthetic. Pretty? She did not look pretty, she looked… she looked good… I liked her face and her calm optimistic expression; I liked her hair, her figure, her cloths, her colors… I liked the beautiful white little dog she brought with her, a friendly princess dog called Nico, who was with us in the room through the whole session – in fact, through all the sessions in three years and became so essential in them - lying down or playing with her toys.
I liked everything about Susanna from the first moment I met her.
As a woman I felt very comfortable. Susanna's eyes did not check my outside appearance and did not run around looking for the weaknesses in my body, face or hair, as women sometimes do, as I sometimes do…
Susanna talked openly and honestly and at the same time she seemed very professional, which did not make her distant, in fact, I could not see and not even guess the private person who was behind the image of the professional one. I thought that if I had first met her in social circumstances, she would not have been different… lucky me….
At the end of the first session I felt I could trust Susanna to be gentle with me as she had promised and I could not wait for the week to pass until I met her again.
Susanna is a gifted artist and her paintings are amazing. I can imagine what a great art therapist she is, using her skills as a painter and as a Jungian psychologist, but in the first session I told her, that although I paint and draw I feel more like a writer and I'd rather talk with her than paint. I said that I performed my art by using the language so I needed her skills as an art therapist in the lingual field. She accepted it without any hesitation… Only later I found out she was also a poet…
During the week between sessions I used to write down my feelings, thoughts and dreams and described events occurred to me in the past or in the present. These writings were pieces of mirrors in which I was reflected; when I met Susanna I read them aloud and we talked about them.
Susanna always surprised me as she was relating to these writings in fact, to everything I told her. She felt things I was not aware of and made me look at my experiences in a new way.
She taught me how to get in touch with my images, how to make a dialogue with them and thus how to listen to myself in a new way. Language, which for me is the artistic material for creative writing, became the conductor of my images for a new kind of dialogue within me. I called it "The Jungian Language" or "The Language of Images", which I was quick to learn, as if it was always there and I just needed Susanna's help to recognize and use it.
Susanna has a unique way of treatment consisting on two main elements.
One is her full identification with the material she is dealing with. The images' messages, their energies and their independent existence within us, seem to be her natural partners. She is not speaking about the images; she is speaking them. For such ability, I think, one must have rich imagination, high creativity and a huge love for art and beauty. Susanna has them all.
The second element is her large academic basis, which the Jungian school is the main part of it. I believe that in choosing the psychological school to work with, the therapist is like a poet who chooses the genre for his ideas or the painter who chooses the style and kind of paints to use; the genre, by its own energies, pushes itself to be chosen, so, in fact, I think that not only Susanna chose the Jungian school, but also, the Jungian school chose her.
In our sessions I described to Susanna all kinds of episodes from my past and present time, trying to give her a full picture of me. While conversing, especially while answering her questions, there were images coming up to me, very clear pictures as I see them in dreams. For example, I was talking about an inability to show empathy and immediately came up a picture of a miserable cripple who can't walk; or I spoke about violence and I had an instant picture of a carnivore, a vicious animal threatening me with its canine teeth; I had many images of many kinds, some of which we discussed and others were just there, broadcasting to me their voices and messages. Susanna developed my images, I can say she made them more alive and sometimes she explained them to me in the Jungian terms, based on the Jungian theories. In the long run these explanations became my new "explication narrative".
I could not have enough of it. This was a multi-colored experience with many aspects and layers. I met the archetypical woman and the one of reality, which are both me; I met the mythological world and the real one, which are both my life… I felt as if I was creating a huge novel in which I was the main character and Susanna, I think, was the editor…
This was a process of pure creativity with no limits. I could flow with my thoughts and talk about whatever I wanted. Susanna went along with me and had her own images coming up relating to mine. She sometimes said to me: "here is the image I had when you talked…" and listening to her image which was a reaction to mine, made me feel I was going deeper and at the same time, my horizons widened.
Susanna's ability to go along with me inside the process made it so strong and so genuine, that I felt like I was in a very special cruise on a very special ocean, far away from the conventional one-hour-therapeutic-session as I had imagined it. Susanna was like a dancing teacher who was not only teaching the dancer how to dance but was dancing with her all along the training hour. Indeed she was training me in dancing… i.e. in trusting.
It took almost a year until I started feeling a change in me, which was so small and so weak that I did not think it was a real change; I thought it was a temporary mood, but in fact there was some lowering in the sea level of my anger.
Around that time I asked Susanna if the psychological therapy can really cure me of "the problematic things in me". She looked at me with a very serious expression, waited a little before she spoke and said, "Therapy does not cure us, it enriches us".
Being so bravely honest, intellectually, professionally and personally, Susanna seemed to me at that moment as the best person I had ever met.
Some of my closest friends don't believe in a long term therapy. They think that the psychological treatment is merely for people who have no one to talk to and that too much "digging" is unnecessary for "sad people" to become happier. I have different opinions, but it seems that our care and fondness for each other has nothing to do with agreeing or disagreeing. I enthusiastically shared with these friends some of my treatment experiences, but they could not understand why I kept meeting Susanna for three years, paying her for each session without wishing to end this "unnecessary treatment, which you can have for free with close friends like us…" I never had a good answer for them, but I should have said that the therapist can not and should not be a friend and that the connection with him or her is one of a kind… Not like a physician and a patient, not like a teacher and a student and not like brothers and sisters, but some elements of theses with the addition of a special mutual flow toward each other, as it happens in dreams… I dare say it is a special kind of love.
Talking about relations, Susanna and I came to deal with the violent power, this vicious animal which was threatening me. Thus I learned, or rather felt, a new meaning of the violent power and I started seeing it as a natural aspect of human existence. I could see it used by people over other people and by people over their own selves; violent power used by humanity over nature or used by nations over other nations… and the more I felt its new meaning the less I was afraid of it… Very slowly I became closer to the monstrous image and started "dancing with it" as Susanna said.
It was not a very easy process and I assume it had some dangers in going through it, but with Susanna's guidance I did not get into vertigo and was not trapped in my own insights.
Examining my feelings at that time I found out that there were very few people among my relatives and friends whom I could define in my new "language of Images" as beloved persons. Now I needed to keep the word "love" or rather, the image of love, only for those who made me feel the authenticity I felt while dialoguing with the images. I realized that when my interaction with people was never judgmental, when there was no fear of rejection between us and when we could hear each other's cry of pain, which was not only personal but also the archaic voice of human life on earth, then there were good conditions for love…
I was so fascinated by that, that I started talking about war and peace, about violence and power and about the need to teach people how to make a dialogue with these elements in order to learn the real blessing of the human race, the ability to love… I was dramatic and enthusiastic and I felt I was very rich and wise… until I watched the evening news…
Well, it was clear to me, that I could not be the peacemaker of the tortured world, but I could certainly make peace within myself...
My wounded soul started coagulating and its main symptom, the sea of anger, was shrinking to become a lake, but it was still stormy and full of monsters and I still feared violence and anger. Every shadow of stress in my relations was still terrifying as I happened to experience with a very dear girlfriend of mine.
Through the four years of our close friendship I used to repeatedly say to this girlfriend that I could never be angry with her. She was flattered but never accepted it, saying it was not normal not to be angry at all. She was right, but I could not see what she meant since for me anger meant disaster… until the day I had a bitter quarrel with her.
It started with an argument in which I suddenly felt the old bad pain in my soul which immediately made me awfully angry. I was so afraid of this anger and was so used to its destructive pattern of not leaving anything behind except of smoking ruins, that I became even more threatened. I needed to defend myself and the well known sounds of war were already there…
I burst into hysteric ugly cry, blaming my girlfriend of being unfair and hurtful, taking advantage of my acceptance of her and manipulating me into a hurtful situation. I felt awfully bad and my good friend seemed to me as a cruel enemy. Then, somehow - I assume it was thanks to the work I had done with Susanna - I heard my own cry as if it was saying something to me, not by words but by pictures, images from my past with the same pattern of cry. I tried to listen to the repressed voices in me, which in the past I could not hear because of the sounds of war, but now I was trained and I could hear them… they were not fully clear but they were there, giving me a glance of an insight of what happened to me in this quarrel. For a moment I could clearly see what really frightened me but then there was a freezing fear that it was too late… now, that I had "allowed myself" to be angry with my girlfriend, I ruined our friendship forever… This made me feel so bad, that the river of my tears strengthened.
My girlfriend sat with me as I was crying, looking at me without saying a word, just waiting for me to calm down. Then she apologized for hurting me and described what she had been going through at the time she did it. She ended by saying that she still loved me and that we were still close friends. In Hebrew it sounded like a poem… and I suddenly felt as if a dark shadow vanished and the daylight came back. My tears dried in a moment, I felt a smile coming from inside me and the paralyzing fear of the enemy who threatened to eat me alive was not there anymore. "Look" said my girlfriend, "we have gone together through the anger and we did not crash".
This was very true. I knew I entered the hole of the beast and came out of it alive and unwounded. Nothing bad happened to my soul, it was not bleeding. I looked at my girlfriend and she seemed close and trustworthy as she had been before.
This was a very good feeling but I did not believe it was my achievement, I thought it was my girlfriend's… Still, telling Susanna about this, I felt like I was immunized against my own violence. I believed it was the trust I had gained in the treatment, but I could not clearly understand what had happened to me. I asked Susanna what was different in this fight than my previous ones and she said: "It was not about power, it was about love".
In our sessions I cried and I laughed, I talked a lot and I listened to what Susanna had to say, sometimes I was painful and sometimes I was delighted, but it was always fascinating.
As the time passed I wondered what the secret of this therapy was and I asked Susanna about it. She said that together we built a sanctuary which was only mine and that I trusted her to keep it for me and let me feel safe in it. Yes… inside my sanctuary I felt safe and Susanna was my guard and my support. I then realized that the therapy was not necessarily about understanding in my mind or logic what happened to me in my life, but mostly it was about learning how to be inside the sanctuary and how to make there a natural dialogue with my images i.e. with my self. This was very enriching and if it was not curing it was certainly changing me… or rather, it let other aspects of "me" who waited inside come out to the surface.
I would not have been able to build this sanctuary if I had not had Susanna with me. I truly believe that it's her special personality and skills which made me fully trust her so I could be there with her, feel secure and be able to mature.
There are some characteristics of Susanna's which must have been crucial for me to like her and feel good at her presence, such as good temper and comfortable femininity, vividness and love for beauty, but for me Susanna's most important quality is her Humane Modesty.
She always let me feel she liked me and that I was important for her; she never patronized me and never lessened me; she was never judgmental or pushy; she was personal but never robbed me of my centrality in the treatment and never stopped being professional. When from time to time I told her I wished we would be friends, she simply said it was impossible, because this was not the agreement between us… She made me feel she was accompanying me in my journey as one human being walks along with another, sharing a deep existential sense of the Sisyphean nature of life.
I was fully committed to my journey. For me it was like doing my PHD, whatever it took to achieve the best I could.
What did I want to achieve?
The definition changed within the treatment. When I first met Susanna I told her I wanted to meet myself, to get in touch with the "me" inside, who was detached from me… Later it was the archaic life I wanted to find inside me… I don't think I can write in short what I have achieved in my journey. It might take a whole novel to tell about it, but I can definitely say that my main achievement was the journey itself, with Susanna.
So what do I want to be?
I want to be a voyager in my long lasting journey till its end somewhere along the road, conversing with my images in the language Susanna taught me.
Tali Geva, Vancouver, June 2007