Open Heart Therapy
Wounded hearts need open heart therapy in order to heal best.
Not all therapy involves opening a wounded heart for comfort and healing. It’s actually not what therapists are trained to do. Most therapists are trained to help patients control their thinking, behavior, and emotions using a “head-to-head” model of talk therapy that doesn’t require either patient or therapist to open their hearts. This is unfortunate because wounded hearts heal best within the context of heart-to-heart relationship experiences.
Remember a time when you felt highly distressed and had a moving heart-to-heart talk with a loved one. Remember how much better it made you feel? This is the same essential human experience necessary for wounded hearts to heal. It’s simple on one level, but complicated on another. Therapists are discouraged from using their hearts in therapy; instead taught to remain on the more trustworthy ground of their rational minds. A great deal of emphasis is placed on therapists to maintain emotional detachment and objectivity in therapy, and for good reasons. It’s essential that therapists not let their personal feelings distort or interfere with the needs of their patients. Patients must not be drawn into their therapists personal lives. Therapists are forbidden from allowing a therapeutic intimacy to develop into romance, sex, or dysfunctional dependencies. These slippery slopes must be avoided by way of clear and consistent boundaries between therapist and patient feelings. Regrettably, the emphasis on these precautions often throws a valuable baby out with the bathwater.
One of the most effective resources therapists possess for providing comfort and healing are the contents of their own hearts. A good heart is where the balms of genuine empathy and compassion emanate from. And it’s not only possible, but commonplace for therapists to offer open-hearted care while maintaining objectivity and professional boundaries at the same time. When a heart needs to heal, finding an open-hearted therapist with professional boundaries is worthwhile.
Wounded hearts are fragile. They need protection from blame, judgment, guilt, shame, embarrassment, humiliation, abuse, manipulation, and exploitation. A great deal of trust is required for a wounded heart to open to a perfect stranger regardless of how many degrees hang on their therapist’s ego wall. Patients don’t know what their therapists are thinking or feeling about them behind their professional masks of emotional detachment and objectivity. Wounded hearts respond most to what they sense about the emotional nature of their therapist. Words of empathy and compassion are not adequate unless genuinely expressed. The authenticity of a therapist’s care is key.
Hearts cannot heal until they can open, reveal, express, and receive what they need. When a heart senses it is in the presence of a genuinely caring person it feels safer to access those heavily guarded places where emotional wounds reside. This is extremely delicate territory. Heart-centered empathy and compassion assure patients there will be no judgments made in response to what is revealed.
Open heart therapy requires a skillful type of dance between therapists and patients. A therapist must take the lead, but simultaneously be able to to follow the signals of their patient. Too much too fast can be overwhelming and derail a healing endeavor. Sensing and respecting a patient’s limits of pace and depth are integral to this dance. And a therapist’s responsibility for maintaining protective boundaries is more important than ever when two open hearts undergo this healing dance behind closed doors.
Open heart therapy is similar to open heart surgery in that both intervene with extremely vulnerable elements of a person’s life. These are places where great need and great risk are inseparable. If your emotional heart needs some form of healing, use these insights to guide your search for a therapist who integrates the willingness and trustworthiness to offer good open heart therapy.