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We'll Do It Gently: My journey with Susanna

1. Language

My first and beloved language which is my mother tongue is Hebrew. I use it not only for communication with my relatives and friends but also professionally as a Literature teacher for Hebrew speakers and as a writer. I have been living in Canada (Vancouver, BC) for five years, but I can not write my novels in my second language, English, not yet… 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 my second language channel and I was not surprised: the language I used in our sessions was English. 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.


2. “We’ll do it gently”


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.
I have two sisters, both are therapists. One is an art therapist of the Jungian school and the other is a bibliotherapist, practicing a new branch of psychotherapy.

My sisters were the ones, who named me by “Psychotherapy Refuser” 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 I knew what kind of a therapist to look for.

I know a psychologist in Vancouver, who is a Hebrew speaker and I felt free to ask 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…
After few days I got three recommended names from my friend: 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, exactly 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. He sounded pleased and 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 calmed me down, “You can do it… don’t worry” and I felt he sensed not only my lack of confidence to do it in English, but also my deep fear of the treatment. He gave me Susanna’s phone number and sent me her website address… Now I had to call her 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 go into the depth of my soul and by doing that I can 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 about me… Well, I did not have any problem with going into my depth or exposing secrets. I was curious and excited about exploring my soul; it seemed to me that I was going to find many interesting things 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. Still, 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 loose 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 could not do it…

This fear was weird. I could always deal with all kinds of medical treatments, gynaecological, dental and other invasive physical treatments 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 with 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 her 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 girl… In a way I was a girl in that situation.

So 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.

3. “It enriches us”

How can I say (in English or in Hebrew…) that someone is beautiful, but not in the usual sense? Aesthetic? Susanna looked more than aesthetic. Pretty? She did not look pretty, she looked… she looked very good in my eyes… I liked her face and the calm optimistic expression she had, 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 giving me the impression that she was honest and at the same time very professional which did not make her distant, in fact, I could not see and not even guess the private person who was hiding behind the image of the professional one. I thought that if I had met her in social circumstances, she would have been the same… 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 see myself as 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 describe events occurred to me in the past or in the present. Theses writings were fragments and 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 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.

I believe that 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, among other things, very rich imagination, high creativity and a huge love for art and beauty… beauty in the larger sense of the word. 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, such as sonata or a modern lyric form, or like the painter who chooses big or small canvases and the kind of paints to use. The genre with its own energies, kind of 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. I opened myself, using my imagination and letting it flow, working with the images and letting them take me into the depth of the unconsciousness. This was a multi-colored experience with many aspects and layers. I met the archetypical woman and the private one of reality, which are both me; I met the ancient 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 what I had been through, made me see myself in different eyes. Sometimes Susanna’s images cleared for me feelings or behavior I could not understand.
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 “regular” one-hour therapeutic session as I had imagined would be. She was like a dancing teacher who is not only teaching the dancer how to dance but is dancing with her all along the training hour. Indeed Susanna 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.

4. “It’s not about power, it’s about love”

As all patients with their therapists, I shared with Susanna my interactions and relations with the people around me today and in the past. We looked at patterns of relations, we worked with the images and little by little I became less judgmental and more accepting in my point of view about people. I started feeling the very beginning of compassion, but I still had a long way to go.
With Susanna I reconstructed situations in which I was much stressed and now I could re-live them using a new way of processing whatever was going around me and inside me.

There are people who don’t believe in a long term therapy. Some of my closest friends think that the psychological treatment is merely for people who have no one to talk to. These friends believe that too much “digging” is unnecessary for “sad people” to become happier and in order to feel good one has to work and study, socialize and fill life with doing things. I have different opinions, but it seems that our care and fondness for each other has nothing to do with agreeing or disagreeing. Sharing with these friends some of my treatment experiences I was asked why I needed it. They could not see why I kept meeting Susanna for three years, paying her for each session without wishing to finish this “unnecessary treatment, which you can have for free with close friends like us…”

When I answered that it was a special trust with the therapist, they said that we also had a great trust between us… When I said it was the professional guidance which makes the difference, they said that intelligent and intellectual close friends can have the natural skills for significant conversations…”And anyway” they asked, “what is it that you talk about with Susanna and you can’t talk with us?” I answered, “I talk about you” but they did not buy it. I said that it was not what I talk about but how I do it, and they looked at me as if they caught me in the middle of my “writing eagerness” and I gave up.

I should have said, that the therapist can not and should not be a friend, that the connection with him or her is one of a kind… not like a physician and a patient and not like a teacher and a student, not like brothers and sisters and not like close friends, 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 with Susanna about relations we came to deal with the violent power, this vicious animal which was threatening me. Discussing it with her 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. I realized the creative and destructive aspects of power and the need we all have to use it. I could see myself in that picture, using power, being threatened or strengthen by it and this was, in fact, my way to feel better about myself and about others.

It was not a very easy process and I assume it had some dangers in going through it, but using the ability Susanna helped me develop, of making a dialogue with the images, I did not get into vertigo and was not trapped in my own insights, which could have happened had I not had her guidance.

We looked at a list of my close relatives and friends since my childhood till today. We classified and characterized them according to my feelings for them and I found out that there were very few I could define in my new “language of images” as beloved persons. I needed to keep the word “love” or rather, the image of love, only for those who gave me the same feeling I had when I was close to the images. I realized that when my dialogue and interaction with people were never judgmental and always equal, when there was no fear of rejection between us and when we could hear each other’s cry of pain, which is 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 destructive violence, about constructive power and about the need to teach people how to make a dialogue with violent power in order to learn the real blessing of the human race, the ability to love… I was dramatic and enthusiastic… I felt I was the richest person in the world…. Well, until I watched the evening news…

So, I could not be the peacemaker of the tortured world, but I could certainly make peace within myself.

My wounded soul was starting to coagulate 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 still seemed to be at the very least, a threat of a world war three…

I have a very dear girlfriend to whom I used to proudly say, “I can never be angry with you”. She was always flattered but never accepted it, saying it was not normal not to be angry at all. I was not aware then that I had a different image of anger than she had. She never liked anger but she was not so afraid of it either. I was terrified of anger but I did not really see it with “my new eyes” until the day I had a bitter quarrel with that girlfriend.

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, which never left 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 and 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 training 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 usually I could not hear because of the sounds of war. Now I was trained and I could hear them… they were not fully clear but they were there. I suddenly had a glance of an insight of what happened to me in this fight with my girlfriend, I could 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 her, I already ruined our friendship… This made me feel so sorry, 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, I must admit… Anyway, 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 old enemy that 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 trustful as she had been before.
This was a very good feeling but I did not believe it was my victory, I thought it was my girlfriend’s…

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 see the principle in 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”.

5. What I want to be

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.
Describing my everyday life, I randomly used three terms: being on my own, being alone and being lonely and I was not aware of this triple use (not because it was English, but because I was blind…), so I was grateful to Susanna as she distinguished between being alone and being lonely. “You are not alone” she said to me, “you have your family and your friends and you have me…” She was right. I was not alone and acknowledging this made it much easier to deal with loneliness.
Loneliness made me vulnerable and allowed my worst fears take over me. The hours of loneliness were always the time of deep sadness and pain when I was carrying a heavy dark mountain on my back. But with Susanna’s help in relating to my inner self, I could find a way to ease the pain. Talking about this with her she quoted for me lines from Rilke’s writings, which were the absolute echo for this issue. As a Literature person I could not ask for more:
“…the future enters into us in this way in order to transform itself in us long before it happens. And this is why it is so important to be lonely and attentive when one is sad: because the apparently uneventful and stark moment at which our future sets foot in us is so much closer to life than that other noise and fortuitous point of time at which it happens to us as if from outside. The more still, more patient and more open we are when we are sad, so much the deeper and so much the more unswervingly does the new go into us, so much the better do we make it ours, so much the more will it be our destiny, and when on some later day it “happens” (that is steps forth out of us to others), we shall feel in our inmost selves akin and near to it. And that is necessary. It is necessary – and toward this our development will move gradually – that nothing strange should befall us, but only that which has long belonged to us. We have already had to rethink so many of our concepts of motion; we will also gradually learn to realize that that which we call destiny goes forth from within people, not from without into them.”
Rilke, (1934) Letters to a Young Poet, p. 59
As the time passed I wondered what the secret of this therapy was and I asked Susanna what made me trust her and why I was so dependent on coming to see her every week. 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. She was right. 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 why or 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. Yes, it 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, high creativity and rich imagination and there are more qualities on my list… 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 treated me as an equal human being; she never patronised 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 and so was Susanna. 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… If I said today, that the main aim was to make peace with myself, it would be much of a cliché, because this is only one aspect of what I have achieved.
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