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Love and Grace in Therapy and Relationship

by Martina Boland

(initially published under a pseudonym, the author has requested the addition of her real name which is Martina Boland)

Rollo May in his wonderful exploration of the aspects, of ‘Love’, ‘Will’, and the ‘Shadow’, and their emergence and expression in human sexuality and relationship, quotes Schopenhauer as follows:-

Sexual Passion is the cause of War, and the end of Peace,
The basis of what is Serious,
And the aim of the jest, the inexhaustible source of wit, the key to
All allusions and the meaning of all mysterious hints….Just because the
Profoundest seriousness lies at its foundation…But all this agrees with the fact
That the sexual passion, is the kernel of the will to live, and consequently,
The concentration of all desire.

– Schopenhauer.

I have deliberately chosen this particular quotation as a starting point for this article, because I believe it expresses beautifully, the complex, often unpredictable, and life-enhancing interplay of these energies, as they arise in our hearts, lives, and relationships. Joseph Campbell echoes Schopenhauer when he describes love as “the burning point of life”. He say’s “There is joy and pain in love. Love you might say is the burning point of life, and since all life is sorrowful so too is love. And the stronger the love, the more the pain. Because love bears all things. Love itself is a pain, you might say, it’s the pain of being truly alive.” (Campbell:1988). A contemplation of Campbell’s words with their emphasis on compassion, reconciliation, accord, mystery, yields some insight into the ‘profoundest seriousness’ that is inherent in our passions as human beings.

Psychotherapy is a profoundly serious activity. I believe we enter the realm of  mystery, and privilege, every time we sit with Another and attempt to accompany them on their journey towards healing and wholeness. The therapeutic relationship if it is alive, is often, although not always fraught with intense passions-love, hate, anger, jealousy, pain, joy, fear sadness. It is a resonating interactive chamber of human experience. Much is required of the therapist, emotionally, spiritually, and  ethically, in the maintenance of a context of development, that is sufficiently safe, respectful of the resources of the client, and does not intrude on their creative-aloneness. Bearing in mind the empathic involvement of the therapist as a  necessary condition for effective therapeutic intervention, Robert Hobson says that the correct temperature for a therapist is “a fiery heat that cools.” (Hobson:1994;278 )    This presupposes that  we not only listen deeply , but do so without prejudice, and in a way that passionately respects the humanity and autonomy of the person as they uniquely are. This is a core ethical and philosophical principle in humanistic psychotherapy and is enshrined in the literature of our ethical standards.

It is for this reason that I was  astounded  when I read the article ‘Meeting The Queer Community,’(Ferriter,Hicks,Wyse:2005;2).,in the last edition of Inside-Out. The statistical representation, in the article that on average 25-30% of therapists express homophobic attitudes, mirrors a similar proportion in society as a whole. Such a figure, which is not new, raises immediate and serious questions, regarding the gap between our ethical ideals, and our actual practices as a community of professional carers. Equally disturbing, in my opinion, was the homogenous use of the word ‘queer’, by the authors of the article. While there are significant numbers of people, in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and, transgendered community who are happy to embrace this word as a statement of their identity, and their choice to do so is be respected, there are equally many individuals who reject the word ‘queer’ because of it’s homophobic derivation, and see the term as a label imbued with negative stereotypical inferences, regarding their sexual identity. I am reminded of Martina Navratilova’s recent successful litigation against a credit card company that used her image as a gay woman, in their marketing strategy, in ways that she felt were “inappropriate” and “repugnant”. Press reports of the court proceedings state that she objected to the card being associated with cable T.V. shows “The L. Word”, and “Queer As Folk”, calling them depraved. She said after her success-“Labels are for filing, labels are for clothing, labels are not for people.”(Navralitova: 2005). I was amazed at the lack of attention to The Particular, in the title of the article- that people whatever their sexual orientation, can and must be free to name themselves and their experience in their own unique way.

Freedom is a concept that is explored in depth in Rollo May’s book Love and Will. He asserts that ‘Cognition’ (knowing) and ‘Will’ are inextricably linked to freedom and  emerge in human ‘Intentionality’. The horizon of our experience, what he calls necessity, is initially determined- by birth, biography, life-chances, and that freedom consists, not in the abnegation   of the necessary conditions and facts of our lives, but in our relationship to them. Such relation may entail acceptance, denial, fight, flight,  affirmation, consent, and May suggests that all these responses involve a level of volition and choice. Furthermore, the act of will, of taking a stand against something, either in ourselves, or in the world, allows for that creative free aspect, ‘Intentionality’, to emerge and be.  The unfolding of ‘Intentionality’, a synthesis of inner will and passion is very well expressed by William James as follows:-

“The huge world that girdles us about puts all sorts of questions to us, and tests us in all sorts of ways. Some of the tests we meet by actions that are easy, and some of the questions we answer in articulately formulated words. But the deepest question that is ever asked, admits of no reply, but the dumb turning of the will, and the tightening of our heartstrings as we say “Yes I will even have it so!”  The world thus finds in the heroic man its worthy match or mate ; and the effort which he is able to put forth to hold himself erect, and keep his heart unshaken is the direct measure of  his worth and function in the game of human life. He can still find a zest in it by pure inward willingness to face the world despite all the deterrent objects there.”


James’ words illustrate very clearly the woundedness that lies at the heart of human existence, and the fierce determination and will, that is required, if we are to face the world as it is and choose to be alive in it. The manifestations of human suffering are many and we meet this dimension of human experience every day in our work as therapists. The tragic facts of loneliness, despair, hopelessness, violence, depersonalisation, the loss of Being, the wreckage that occurs when the essential grace and beauty of the person, has been forced, either voluntarily or involuntarily, into exile. Joseph Campbell say’s that the spirit ranges out beyond the boundaries, and that it is often out on that furthermost edge of our experiencing and awareness, that the more fragile, fragmented, and wounded aspects of our humanity are to be found.Heroism emerges, he says, in choosing to leave the terrain of the familiar, despite our fears and anxieties, and journey out to the edge and beyond into the unknown and unfamiliar, in order to reclaim ourselves and our humanity.

Who, if I cried would hear me among the angelic orders?
And even if one of them suddenly pressed me against his heart,
I should fade in the strength of His stronger existence,
For Beauty’s nothing but the beginning of Terror
We’re just able to bear.

Rainer Maria Rilke. Duino Elegies, 1 ( Rogers:1996;96).

How sometimes terrifying and necessary love is to therapy. A belief in the heroic potentiality incubating in the tragic facts of a person’s life requires fierce determination on the part of the therapist, and fierce tenderness. To care deeply for the welfare of the person who is our client, to create the conditions in which that which has been rejected, denied, abandoned, despised, can return, to encourage a relational context which respects the resources, autonomy, will, and potentiality of the client, to be prepared to witness great suffering and feel “the dumb turning of the will, and the tightening of the heartstrings” in ourselves. These are some of the challenges that face us as therapists in our work.  Rollo May asserts that it is necessary and important that we wait with each other  in  relationships .To wait with Another in their suffering is to ‘Care’ about them, and the healing therapeutic significance of this kind of ‘Waiting’ is beautifully expressed by T.S.Eliot,

“I said to my soul be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing. Wait without love for love would be love for the wrong thing; there is yet faith; but the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. Wait without thought for you are not ready for thought. So the darkness shall be light, and the stillness the dancing.”


Waiting is impossible without empathy. Bertrand Russell describes his experience of this in his encounter with Mrs A.N. Whitehead as follows: –

“She seemed cut off from everyone  and everything by walls of  agony., and the sense of the solitude of each human soul suddenly overwhelmed me…..the ground seemed to give way beneath me, and I found myself in quite another region.  Within five minutes I went through some such reflections as the following;  the loneliness of the human soul is unendurable; nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity of the sort of love that religious teachers have preached; whatever does not spring from this motive is harmful, or at best useless; It follows that war is wrong; the use of force is to be deprecated, and that in human relations we should penetrate to the core of loneliness in each person and speak to that”.


We cannot penetrate to the core of loneliness in Another and speak to that unless we are prepared to know our own loneliness. Robert Hobson say’s that the first great task of therapy is to stay with no-being and cut-offness, and the second is to discover a language by careful and empathic attending and waiting-

“In which we can go out to meet and respond to our clients with honest respect and quiet tenderness, affectionately being in touch… In so far as we are poor friends, we are rotten therapists, and probably damaging analysts.”

  (Hobson; 1994: 281).

Meeting people in this way is strewn with errors and mistakes, yet we persist doggedly because we learn that it is in the imperfect terrain of human relationship, that realness emerges. Beauty, Grace, Dignity, Love, Worth, those dimensions of human experience and awareness that have for whatever reason, been relegated to the edges of consciousness. They return often precipitously and slowly.  It is in my opinion of the greatest importance that we attend carefully to our own needs to be real, and to own and incorporate our own mistakes and failures in our on-going professional development. Justice, if it is informed by person-centred ethics , tends to emerge somewhere between the  intentionality or will to do good to Another, and the success or failure of that intention. Closing the gap between our ethical ideals and our actual professional practices, requires rigorous self-examination, individually and collectively, particularly of those ‘shadowy undercurrents’- power, prejudice, omniscience, omnipotence, which if unchecked would destroy empathy and do harm to our clients.

I was struck by the clarity and insight of Jimmy Judge’s words in this respect when I  first read them several years ago. He says,

“Ethically we cannot refuse to acknowledge what may be the ‘shadow self of psychotherapy’. For me these questions are the core of ethics: how do I feel about myself, my client, the world around me, and God’s existence, or not, as the case may be. These issues could very well determine how we adhere to ethical codes.”

                                                                                                        (Judge: 1998: 14).

It follows that to set ourselves up as holders of the truth is wrong. To presume that we have the knowledge and power to name Another’s experience for them is wrong. To politically and culturally discriminate, and hold views that are injurious to the dignity of the person, on the basis of orientation, gender, race, age, class, educational background, disability, religion, is wrong. They are wrong because these behaviours, and more all display an inauthenticity and incongruence, that is at variance with the core person-centred ethics of humanism, and additionally profoundly violate people’s boundaries and potentialities. In the inauthentic terrain of the unreal- people are shamed.

Searching for Jimmy Judge’s article has taken me back in time. I discovered in that edition of Inside-Out, a tribute to my former therapist of the time, Alan Mooney who died unexpectedly in 1998.The editorial tribute to him spoke of his values of openness, speaking the truth, and inclusiveness. I remember the many orthodox, and sometimes unorthodox interventions he made at times to help me find my way into the relationship. One such was smoking. We routinely smoked cigarettes together at the beginning of each session. It was a loose easy way of making contact, in which we both hung out on our fags –together. And if things got really heavy during the session, we would have another fag, and hang out for a while, until I found my wind, to continue. Looking back, I was at the time completely oblivious to his skill. Now I marvel at it. Nor was he perfect. I know he lied to me on occasion, when he became ill. I knew that his decision was based on a concern for my well-being. I didn’t feel his ‘lie’ was  unethical  then or now. I never got to say goodbye to him in person , because he died so suddenly .But I did dream about him the night before he died, in which he showed me some of the things that mattered most to him in  life. He was splendidly happy in the dream, even though he was ill .At the end of the dream, he said, “I have to go back now”. I knew it was goodbye. Remembering this man, his presence in my life, and his care, evokes sadness as I write and I am reminded again -that love is stronger than death. My sadness also awakens the memory of what it was like for me to see my therapist gradually fade away before my eyes, to see his mortal woundedness, to witness his dogged determination to care, as his physical resources progressively waned. It was as though the dissolution of existing boundaries, propelled by the inevitability of his death, paradoxically opened up an even deeper domain of relation between us.

“I am here under the apple tree” said the fox. “You are very pretty. Come and play with me” said the little prince. “I can’t play with you, I haven’t been tamed”, said the fox.. “What does ‘tame’ mean?” said the little prince. “It means to create bonds…One only knows the things that one tames,” said the fox. “What must I do? said the little prince. “you must be very patient,” replied the fox, “you will first have to sit at a distance from me, like that, over there  in the grass. I will look at you from the corner of my eye… and you don’t say anything. Language is the source of misunderstanding. But each day…. You will be able to sit a little closer.”


The perception of reality, as being a process of continual change, involving the simultaneous dissolution, and ordering of distinctly bounded energies evolving towards increasing complexity and differentiation, is a central tenet of humanism, and systems theory. Nature provides wonderful examples of many diverse life forms co-existing beautifully. I experience at times a sense of grace, and mystery, and am often struck by the sense that nature always seems to wish to reveal itself. My journey in writing this article has been a process of ordering my thoughts and ideas around those aspects of relationship,  that matter to me, as a person and as a therapist. At times I have got completely lost in intellect. Clarity has emerged eventually from the mess, and at times from the interruption of a neighbour’s cat who insists on my full attention when she comes to visit. Our interaction which was spontaneous, and occurred when I was stuck, helped to clarify my thought, and bring me back to the central direction of this paper.

She has been in a fight again today. Too small, she never wins. She gets sick, shudders, trembles inside. She has a cut over her eye. Cries. No touch allowed. I leave her for a while. Later she returns, sits at the far end of the table Wait’s for my attention. Nothing, I’m busy writing. Then she stretches herself out in the middle of the mess. Paper, books, cups, look’s at me from there like a little white dappled tiger.  Wait . Nothing.  She gets up and begins to tip-toe through the mess, as if it’s hers. I notice and ignore her wonderful boldness. I’m busy trying to write. A smile of delight wells up inside me as she begins to dance around on my left.. I ignore her. Busy- got to get this bit right. Then she comes and sits right on the middle of my page, very still, her face about six inches away, and she looks at me. I get the message. Everything stops. I marvel at her imperial stillness, her cool self-assurance ,her tiny life-form completely different to mine, as she sits there on my page. Her insistence on contact stops my intellectual train of thought. Delight prevails for a while, and I wonder as I look at her… why are you not afraid?

“Some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright… And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice…But still the place…is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone”.

Ellis Boyd Redding – “Red” (Castle Rock, 1994).

Prisons are places of exile. Their physical architecture, and the spatial organization inside, predicated on the principle of control, and the perception of person, as “object” to be forcibly transformed, in the process of incarceration, reflects the shadow side of Cartesianism. The separation of mind from nature, and the fragmented illusory logic, that the power to force change in Another, expresses a will, that is in it’s violence, completely devoid of the civilizing and humanizing nature of compassion. Michel Foucault says that the will to dominate in this way,

“…Establishes marks of its power, and engraves memories on things, and even within bodies. It gives rise to the universe of rules, which is by no means designed to temper violence, but rather to satisfy it”


I meet people constantly in the prison environment, in my role as educator, who  ‘tighten their heartstrings’, and struggle to prevail against the totalising, depersonalising influences in their environment, and in themselves. I am reminded, as I write, of my experience of one man, who has journeyed heroically, during his time ‘inside’. On meeting him several years ago, I was immediately struck by his natural intelligence, openness, generosity with fellow inmates, boldness, humour, and with the progression of the learning relationship, his natural deep understanding of the processes of nature. I have at times been very moved by his transparency, and sensitivity in the learning process, and reminded again and again, that there is something essential and pure in the human spirit, that remains untouched and undefiled by brutality. When this aspect emerges, in an ordinary encounter, there is a radiance about the person that prevails, for a time. The last year of this man’s sentence has been difficult-many losses, many challenges, many struggles. It has been challenging,  professionally, to witness his struggle – his physical deterioration, his pain and to trust the tao, the process, that this is the way that it is, and has to be, for him. He is preparing to leave now, and he said of his experience recently- which I recount with his permission,

“Prison for me is a paradox, because although it’s a place of confinement, and incarceration, it’s where I learned to be free. Freedom is spiritual, not materialistic. From the heart -the emotional scars I have picked up while in jail, have been signposts on the way to my manhood. I came into this place like a boy, and I am emerging now as a man.”

“The Grail was brought down from heaven, through the middle, by the neutral Angels, and represents the fulfilment of the highest spiritual potentialities of Human consciousness.”

                                                                   (Campbell: Love and The Goddess;1988)

For Campbell, the highest spiritual potentiality in human consciousness, is the opening of the heart, in oneself, and for Another, and this represents, in it’s essence the natural human impulse towards life. Nature, that foreground of experience of the necessary conditions of life according to Campbell, intends the grail and he says that –‘spiritual life is the bouquet of natural life’. For Campbell, all spiritual myths are concerned with consciousness transformation- the powers of life and their inflection through the actions of people. He suggests that there is a ‘condescention of the Infinite’, to the mind of human beings, which occurs in the ordinary circumstances of life. The terrain for the emergence of the Infinite – Mystery, Grace, Love, Justice, Beauty, Worth, is that middle ground of experience between pairs of opposites, – right and wrong, light and shadow, good and evil, this and that, being and no-being, in which we choose a position, and either act in ways that reflect and evoke our higher nature, or not. Campbell asserts that in this earthbound field of duality, which is the domain of the ordinary, the best we can do, as people, is to lean towards the light. Intend the light, in our actions. The grail thus is symbolic, of the life that is lived authentically, out of it’s own being and  nature, out of it’s own ‘Intentionality’, and  when that inner centre is found and held by the person, there is a sense of accord,, reconciliation, participation, and compassion with oneself, and with life, as it is.

“There are in our existence spots of time,
that with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue… whence our minds
Are nourished… and invisibly repaired.”

(Wordsworth :1994;278).

In conclusion I return to the beginning of this article, to that curious and evocative word passion. Schopenhauer’s words with their emphasis on the mysterious, tentative, allusory, and the ‘profoundest seriousness’, that underlies these dimensions of human experience, say’s much about the quest of human beings to be alive, real and free, and  the skill and care required when meeting people, in their experience, in healing relationships. Love is closely associated to imagination, and Robert Hobson suggests that the human body, always expands beyond the literal-spoken word. Gestures, movements, words, tone, silences, are often ‘Bodied forth’ and disclose a person’s real experience, something of their ‘profoundest seriousness’. Waiting with care, and respecting the organic unique unfolding of wholeness in  Another, requires authentic passionate engagement, and the empathic communication of   “a kind of bodily poetry that is carried alive with passion into the heart”. (Hobson: 1994:278).  And sometimes, in the intentionality to do good to Another, the gap is closed, if momentarily, – light emerges from darkness, that which has been exiled returns, shame is transformed by grace, and beauty emerges – in the now. These are, for me some of the dimensions of Soul.-

“And the God laughed seven times. HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA – the God laughed, and from these seven laughs seven God’s sprang up and embraced the whole universe… Then he laughed foe the seventh time, drawing breath, and while he was laughing he cried… and thus the soul came into being… And God said “Thou shalt move everything, and everything will be made happier through you… Hermes will lead you”… When God said this… everything was set in motion and filled with breath…”

(An Egyptian Gnostic Creation Myth) – Marie-Louise Von Franz.

My thanks: to Bernadette Costello, for her encouragement and support in writing this article; to my supervisor Mary Lavelle, for her deep insight and receptivity; thanks also to my therapist Barbara Collins, for her fierce tenderness, unflinching honesty, and for Waiting; and finally, my thanks to my friend and colleague Margaret Gallagher, for her unrelenting realism, and her wonderful, outrageous, humour and wit.

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Ferriter, K., Hicks,T., Wyse, D. ‘Meeting The Queer Community’ in Inside-Out Winter, 2005, Vol  47.

Foucault, M. ( 1979 ) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of The Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan, New York : Vintage

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James, W. (1969) ‘Principles of Psychology’ in May, R. Love and Will. New York W.W. Norton and Company.

Judge, J. (1998) ‘Ethics in Counselling and Psychotherapy’ in Inside Out Spring, Vol.32.

May, R. (1969) Love  and  Will, New  York: W.W. Norton and Company,Inc.

Navratilova, M. (2005) “Navratilova  settles credit card company law suit.” Associated Press.  Tuesday, July 19.

Redding, E.B. (1994)  ‘The Shawshank Redemption’.  Castle Rock  Entertainment.

Rogers, A.G. (1996) A Shining Affliction. New York: Penguin.

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