Sample from the Spring 2005 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine
An Interview with Dr. Phyllis Koch-Sheras By Ratna Stone
Ratna Stone: Spiritual seekers often feel that psychotherapy is not really useful or necessary for them. They feel that if their faith in God is strong, they won’t need to go to a counselor in order to resolve personal conflicts. Sri Gurudev often said that it is better to leave the past behind and live in “the golden present.”
Phyllis Koch-Sheras: Not all forms and techniques of psychotherapy are past-based. For example, a lot of the work of Gestalt therapists is geared more toward being in touch with your immediate experiences and your feelings. The real prize in psychotherapy, like Swami Satchidananda has said, is being able to put the past in the past.
RS: Although that sounds relatively simple, a lot of people have trouble achieving emotional stability. How do you do begin to accomplish that?
PK-S: In order to do that through psychotherapy, you need to understand how your past is affecting you in the present. Then you can make a choice about it–put it into the past–and create new possibilities for the present and the future. Many current psychotherapies do that. These would include: Gestalt Therapy, Narrative Therapy, Structural Therapy, Strategic Therapy and our own Couple Power Therapy.
RS: Do you think that by resolving your interpersonal conflicts with the help of counseling, that your spiritual life could become more fruitful?
PK-S: Definitely yes. You can learn to become more compassionate–an integral part of being on the spiritual path. Often there are obstacles to growth like anger, guilt, resentment, or anxiety. These get in the way of connecting to other people. Through counseling, a person gets the tools to release these negative emotions, and is then more able to live a compassionate life on the spiritual path.
Therapy helps us to get beyond concern only for oneself and allows us to develop empathy. This supports the existence and practice of compassion which is so central to the spiritual path. Our own Couple Power model focuses on creating possibilities for the future, instead of dwelling on what is wrong with the past or present. This model is based on “The Four C’s” of a successful relationship: commitment, cooperation, communication and community. [For a detailed description of the technique, please refer to www.couplepower.com]
RS: What are some of the practical ways we can learn to release hanging on to the past and the “old stuff” in order to make way for the new?
PK-S: One of the ways that is actually spiritually-based is to focus on forgiveness. This includes forgiving yourself as well as others so that you can get to the point of mutual acceptance of yourself and others. This is so much better than hanging on to either guilt or blame, which keeps you stuck in the past. Releasing those attachments to guilt and blame are essential to achieving compassion for oneself and others.
For instance, in couples work, sharing feelings from the past paves the way for peaceful relationships. So we examine the “unfinished business” that may be left over from previous conflicts. The partners go over problems in the relationship from the past and tell each other what was the hardest part to take. The speaking and listening is useful in and of itself. Just through sharing of feelings, healing occurs. You have the opportunity to explain your feelings to the other person who can understand that you’ve been hurt, and you can promise not to repeat that behavior.
RS: Sri Gurudev always taught us, “Let your mistakes be stepping stones for future success.” How can we learn to understand our past mistakes and get beyond habituated behaviors?
PK-S: Psychotherapy helps create space for being more rigorous in accomplishing spiritual practice. It does this by helping to release feelings that have been stored up about old traumas and unresolved grief…