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Excerpted from Healers on Healing by Richard Carlson and Benjamin Shield (editors). Copyright © 1989 by Carlson and Shield. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"Perhaps most importantly, a therapist must live his or her own message."

Bernie Siegel, "Love, the Healer" in 
Healers on Healing
, Part 3

If we listen to our insides, we will also find that inner therapist who says, "Pay attention! I'm going to make you hurt a bit now so you will wake up." For this reason I sometimes call pain and suffering "God's reset button." It is sometimes the only thing that will make people change.

Many external factors, of course, may contribute to our falling away from the path that is right for us--parental conditioning, peer pressure, and the like. But to get back on the path always means finding the way in which we can best contribute love to the world. For we all have our own individual way of expressing love, and when we discover what it is, then we will live the longest, be the healthiest, and enjoy life the most, as well as become able to receive the most love from others. For this reason, therapy must aim at helping clients rediscover their own unique paths of love.

Success in this work demands that the therapist find practical ways of tapping into his or her own love on a continuous basis, for without that reliable contact, the effectiveness of therapy is severely hindered. I have found three factors to be relevant to the therapist's quest for access to the inner resources of love: (1) the attempt to live one's own message; (2) the inspiration of courageous clients; (3) the awareness of one's own mortality.

Perhaps most importantly, a therapist must live his or her own message. By this I do not mean that one must be perfect. I like the way Elisabeth Kubler-Ross puts it: "I'm not okay, you're not okay, but that's okay." We are not perfect, but we can forgive each other for our imperfections. This means that in living my own message I must forgive myself for not being perfect, just as I forgive my patients. It means, too, that I will participate in the daily meditation, music, prayer, affirmations, exercise, diet, and all the other activities that our therapy groups do, because in this way it is easier for me to forgive my patients and to forgive myself.

For me, living my message also means that it is okay to work on my own wounds and to be vulnerable with the people I am caring for. In this way, my patients become my greatest resource. I can ask them to hug me if I'm having a tough day. It is not necessary to be superman. I can admit my mortality and humanness.

In this sense I am not a traditional therapist. I don't mind having body contact with patients, because they understand that this is love on a level that is safe. They know I love them in a way that has nothing to do with sexuality and is nonthreatening.

A colleague of mine, a psychiatrist, had been working for three years with a severely burned woman, trying to teach her that she was lovable in spite of her scars. After hearing me lecture on this subject, he told me, the next time the woman came in, he went over and hugged her. He said she improved more with that hug than with three years of therapy.

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