Monday, March 16, 2009

Spirituality Trumps Psychology

I’m good at psychoanalyzing. I can be right, even helpful in assisting someone to understand the internal dynamics of an impasse by feeling their way through it. Sometimes I can even help myself see beyond gloom to understanding and from there to acceptance. Psychoanalysis isn’t bad, just limited.

A woman client I’ll call Rose has come a long way in eleven years—from trauma, homelessness, poverty and serious depression to having her own small apartment and developing skills to get services. She is clever and valiant, once even faking suicide to get shelter from the cold. Her successes are notable, but Rose is not secure. Her life is spent managing calamity after calamity. No peace. Some days I feel as if I’m on a roller coaster with Rose's ups and downs, the pattern inevitably four steps forward and three and three quarters back.

Rose is better than I am at accepting her state. She summons enough daily energy to fight against systems that entrap her and others like her. She keeps going as if her life depended on the struggle. It does.

Rose has picked a name for herself, a name she will take on fully when she is completely well on her own in a home of her own. I dream that too. Rose has some friends but her family has deserted her except for a few cards and a little money from time to time sent through my office. It’s Rose’s most agonizing pain.

Psychology offers a million diagnoses and few positive prognoses for someone like Rose. But I am a pastoral counselor, a priest. I have another training track besides psychology, another passion. I hold out hope that the Spirit is at work in this process, not just me and Rose.

One day a small package arrived at my office for Rose. I gave it to her. After our session I asked her to open it. I was curious. It was from her younger brother, the boy she’d tried to protect from abuse when they were children. Rose made up many stories, happiness fantasies to tell her little brother. She gave him warmth and as much love as she could muster. She hadn’t seen or heard from him in years. What was in the package, so well secured with layers of tape?

Inside was a beautiful silk scarf in the earth colors Rose loves. Astonished, Rose pulled it up out of the box and stroked it. She put it on, modeled it while I admired.

As Rose was leaving she handed me the package wrapping to throw away. I looked at it. Sure enough it was her brother’s name and address. “What’s this?” I asked.

Rose looked. “Valey.” she said. Valey was written near the address in red with a heart shape for the V. “It’s Valey. See? He hasn’t forgotten me.”

Rose looked up. Crying. It’s the first time I’ve seen Rose cry.

(The next week I found out that Valey had been the hero of one of Rose’s little tales. Valey came on Valentine’s Day. He wasn’t as fast as the Easter Bunny but he got around well enough by hopping on his little point.)