By Patricia Spady, Wood’s Homes Clinician
Wood’s Homes hosted its first international symposium last fall in Banff and as a clinician I had the privilege of meeting and thanking Michael Hoyt, a keynote speaker, for inspiring me with his words of love.
Dr. Hoyt reflected on the qualities therapists bring to their work. He talked of the importance of skills and attending to the research, but his last slide encouraged us not to forget the ‘love’. I had a surprisingly strong emotional response and his simple words have stayed with me.
When he visited us at Eastside Family Centre, I wished him a safe journey back to California and he challenged me to “keep the love going.” What did he mean? What does he know about the role of love in therapy that I need to know? Why did it strike such a strong chord for me?
Love between couples is emphasized in our culture in general, and as Valentine’s Day arrives, it is front and centre in February. But I also find myself pondering the unique love that couples bring to us for reflection as therapists. Couples present a unique challenge for walk-in, single-session therapists for we enter their union at a moment in time and we must be careful to be firmly on the side of their relationship. We resist the urge to see only its complaints and anger – the ‘love wounds’. The danger is we could miss the most important question of all: “What keeps you in the relationship; connected, bound together, striving?” In my experience the reply is almost always “Because I love him/her.”
This is an ancient and powerful concept. The Greeks defined this love as EROS or an intimate romantic love, not necessarily sexual but certainly desirous. Freud defined EROS as our life force. Carl Jung suggested that EROS was the opposite of LOGOS or rationality. At Eastside Family Centre, we provide an immediate opportunity for couples to think about their love and what they are saying and doing as expressions of this energy. Are we walking on sacred ground when we share in a couple’s love? And how do we meet it with our own sense of love for the couple, as Michael Hoyt suggests we do?
This led me to the consideration of another Greek concept of love – AGAPE. This refers to a selfless love of humanity. Are good therapists called in some way by this energy? I have observed that without bringing AGAPE into the therapy room, a single session runs the risk of feeling like a question period or a police interview. As walk-in, single-session therapists we need to be as curious as we can and put aside our agendas for what we might think a couple needs.
I wonder if Dr. Hoyt wasn’t trying to tell us it is not enough to bring clinical curiosity to our work. It is an AGAPE curiosity about a couple’s relationship that creates a little bit of thinking space for couples. I have come to believe meeting the couple’s EROS energy with warmth, acceptance, and selflessness helps to heal their ‘love wounds’. By including EROS it increases the possibility for something new to occur. I think Dr. Hoyt struck a chord with me because he was calling me to remember that making the most of one hour of therapy means making the most of love.
Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends, family and community – let’s work together!
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Wood’s Homes is a nationally accredited mental health centre – proudly helping communities for over 100 years. Learn more at woodshomes.ca.