Therapeutic State of Mind: Part 3

By Guest Author
Posted by: Ronnie Ali

The first part of this 3 part series outlined your rights while accessing mental health therapy. The second part was about what ought to happen in the therapy room when you’re talking about oppression. Finally, here are some of my ideas about “healing” and accessing a “therapeutic state of mind” outside of formal therapy.

Healing is not possible through “self-care” or “self-help” alone. Yes, these approaches can help you adjust behaviour, understand yourself, and practice coping strategies but it may not result in the deep reset we desire from “healing.” Healing is most likely to occur in trusting relationships with other people.

When we experience psychological pain or discomfort, we usually try to hide it away because we view people who struggle in life as “weak” and “childish.” However, in my experience, this sort of avoidance can make the pain and discomfort feel bigger than it really is. Paradoxically, the path toward healing involves learning to lean into our pain and discomfort, so that it may fade over time. We cannot do this alone: we need other people who will not judge, reject or abandon us when we experience and share our pain and discomfort, and whatever else emerges as a result.

When we are able to experience our emotional pain and discomfort in a trusting relationship, we become free to experience ourselves fully as well. This freedom to be present with our full self, our pain, and discomfort, is what I call a therapeutic state of mind.

A starting place to achieve a therapeutic state of mind is through shared and embodied artistic expression. These sorts of practices allow us ease into the feeling of discomfort without having to tell the story of what happened to us. They involve uncertainty, mistakes, and awkward moments, and gives us opportunities to practice being with our discomfort in the presence of trusted others.

Examples of leaning into discomfort through artistic expression with others include:

– Matched breathing: try to match the breathing of another person with the mutual goal of slowing down the breath. You can pick who leads and who follows, or you can negotiate that non-verbally during the practice, taking turns leading and following. Do not breathe in any way that is uncomfortable or strained. Stop when you need to. 2 minutes.

– Mirrored movements: while one person is making stretching or dance movements, the other person tries to do the same thing. Over time, gradually slow down the movements until you both come to a stop. It’s okay to be frozen; from a frozen position, try to make tiny movements with your fingers and toes first, and then slowly move to larger movements of your body. 2 minutes.

– Colour matching: do an abstract painting or drawing while with your partner uses the same colours or opposite colours on the colour wheel than the one you’re using. When you switch colours, they do too. You don’t necessarily have to paint the same thing. 10 minutes.

– Harmonic Humming: inhale normally, and with each exhale, let out a hum and hold the pitch of the hum for as long as you can, until you’ve exhaled completely. With each new exhale, change the pitch of your hum. When done with 2 or more people, allow the resonances and dissonances to unfold randomly as you choose different pitches. It’s okay to skip humming, and to re-join with a low volume hum when you’re ready. 2 minutes.

– Musical Jamming: each person brings an instrument, and take turns playing a brief melody solo for others to hear. After everyone has played solo, pick one melody to riff off, and add the other instruments one at a time. Start off by playing slowly, so that everyone has time to find their rendition and groove. Allow the resonances and dissonances to unfold without trying to “correct” anything. Once you find a groove, see what happens to the melody and tempo! 10-20 minutes.

These practices demand a high level of trust so that you can improvise, and let your your gut take the lead. The goal is never to do these activities “perfectly,” but to experience the process of others calibrating to you and vice versa. In addition, it’s important to debrief and discuss what happened after these activities, but again, being careful to not go into the detailed stories behind our experiences.

These practices are not a substitute for therapy. But my hope is that you can find healing potential in everyday spaces and relationships around you by gradually changing your relationship to psychological discomfort.