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Psychotherapy and The Cultivation of Non-Violence


I’ve been asked “what is therapy all about” and my response was always pretty deflective because I struggled to sum it up in a way that was probably true for all therapists regardless of their theoretical orientation. Recently however it occurred to me that therapy in its most general form is actually a practice designed to cultivate non-violence. Many spiritual and philosophical traditions have tenets or doctrines that advocate for non-violence. A number of these traditions expand the idea of what non-violence means to include the rejection of violent thoughts and actions against the self. When non-violence is viewed as precept that applies not just towards externalized actions but also our internal experience and self-perception, it stands to reason that therapy is essentially a system that has been devised to cultivate non-violence.

Although psychotherapy involves a pantheon of different methodologies and systems of care, a unifying goal of these approaches appears to be the reduction of violence of individuals toward themselves and others. It also follows that reducing violence within family systems and broader communities is inextricably linked to resolving self-directed violence of individuals who live in toxic systems. In other words, the most complete vision of a therapist is not only to reduce violence on the individual level but also within the families and communities that are connected to that individual. For this reason, the role of therapists increasingly includes broader advocacy and activism to restore a sense of peace and equity in communities and families.

I realize now that what initially drew me to become a therapist was my desire to heal individuals so that cycles of intergenerational trauma and self-directed violence can end. To allow people to resolve their entanglement with the energetic parasite of trauma. This is a contribution not just to single clients but to all of the other people with whom they make contact. Although it may sound a bit presumptuous to say that the practice of therapy is viable contribution to world peace, I would respond by saying that, “happy people don’t do messed up stuff.” If through the therapeutic process we can reduce violence through such means as developing self-acceptance, regulating our nervous systems, and improving communication skills there is a chance that fewer people will be touched by violence in the future.

I feel that I most likely stand with the majority of people when I say that the last thing that the world needs right now is more violence. If therapy might help transform people into agents of change in the vision of a peaceful future, why not give it a shot?

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