by Jacob Berkowitz
If you’ve ever visited a psychotherapist or other counselor, you might know the experience of seeing a fellow patient in the waiting room and the glance that occurs on such a meeting.
In my experience, it’s a glance of recognition, one between two people, whom whether awkwardly or at peace with it, see in the other something more than is usually revealed. Simply by our presence in that waiting room, we expose deeper layers of ourselves, ones that we usually keep hidden, protected.
I thought of this moment in reading George Reilly’s heartening and deeply enlightening book Finding Our Way, a distillation of his more than four decades as both a psychotherapist, and as is due course for therapists, also as a person exploring the circuitous path of his own way.
For in reading, I imagined how Reilly might see one of the hundreds of patients who walked through his door–not with the waiting room glance, but the familiar, warm, empathetic look of someone greeting another soul, in all that souls complexity.
Finding Our Way, reveals Reilly as a seer. While most of us live lives that are a mixture of illusion, self-delusion and avoidance, Finding Our Way embraces the messiness of the human journey with a loving, caring eye. As a seer, Reilly’s writing bridges worlds of otherwise disparate experience–our childhood and adult selves, the body and feelings–helping us to bring them into awareness as the parts of the whole we are.
Central to his approach is Reilly’s understanding of the nature of depression. What many counselors, and most physicians, treat as pathology the author identifies as possibility, indeed the very beacon that lights the way to meaning in our lives.
Through listening to and guiding clients who were depressed, suicidal, alcoholics, dealing with past and present sexual and physical abuse, Reilly has come to see depression not as primarily a neurochemical disorder, but as the natural outcome of earlier psychological survival techniques.
We repress–often as children–immediately overwhelmingly painful situations, whose memory we later suppress. The result is a well of subconscious pain that we carry sloshing around within us, until gradually it draws us down into depression.
For Reilly, the moment of depression isn’t the problem, but rather the opportunity. Depression emerges when the mind and body are prepared, or must, face submerged pains. The pain is the path to wholeness.
This is a clearly contrarian view in a popular culture depiction of depression that offers pills to numb the pain or childish wish fulfillment approaches of positive thinking, both or which are simply further repression or avoidance.
Through his therapeutic practice, Reilly describes how he came to see a four-part process to the movement out of the stuck-ness of depression or anxiety: awareness; acceptance; containment and self-expression.
These aren’t offered in a quick fix, self-help format but rather emerge as part of Reilly’s often-conversational and engaging account of his own intellectual and professional development as a therapist.
In this way we share the author’s journey, including his moments of insight, ones often related to wonderful wordplay. He succinctly captures the nature of shame in telling the story of a reverie in which he sees the word in two parts: “sh-” as in the finger-to-the-lips hush sound, and “-âme” French for “soul”–shame as literally a silencing of the soul.
Throughout, Reilly’s tone is remarkable for its humility and the empathy with which he recounts and addresses his own learning and growth, and that of the individual’s whose stories he recounts.
Finishing Finding Our Way, this reader was left with a sense of peace, which on reflection I realized was the book’s great gift. In sharing his professional story and perspective, Reilly the seer helps us empathetically see ourselves for what we are–finding our way and with the good fortune to have George Reilly along with us on the journey.
Finding our way is published by General Store Publishing House