by Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. on June 20, 2011

It has occurred to me that all of us speak in many tongues. There is our everyday language, how we speak to others in the course of our day. There is our professional language, for me, the language of psychoanalysis that I share with colleagues and patients. There is the language of emotions, dense with feeling and affect. The language of the body and the senses. The language of art, or music. The language of science. Or the language of spirituality. And for those of us that are multilingual, there are different languages that come to represent our experience and what we want to say in various ways, bathed in many tones and expressions, each with a particular and individual history which manifests differently in each language.

In thinking about the many and various ways in which we communicate, I have begun to think about how, despite the particular language we use, the meaning or purpose is often the same. Take for example the language of psychotherapy and the language of spirituality. In my work I have found that I speak differently to different patients. Some of this has to do with their use of language and what particular words or ways of thinking make sense to them. But some of it has to do with the fact that when it comes to helping someone who is suffering, there are many different schools of thought, and therefore many languages that address the issue and try to arrive at the same goal: to alleviate the suffering and offer alternatives.

The first time that this became clear to me was when I read Mark Epstein’s Thoughts Without a Thinker. In this book he compares and contrasts psychotherapy with Buddhism, highlighting their common goals despite the fact that they are arrived at through  different languages. It got me thinking about how important it is to hear things in a way that we can understand, a way that touches us deeply and bathes words with individual meaning and significance.

Take for example the idea of pausing before responding, something Pema Chodron has written about. Pausing gives us an opportunity to connect to where we are in the moment, to stop before we respond, and in that pause consider what it is that we really want to say or do. In the language of psychotherapy, this means being conscious, being in the moment and able to consider our actions, thoughts and feelings. Or the Buddhist idea of non-attachment, which would translate into psychotherapy language as the concept of secondary gain: “what purpose is this serving for you? Why is it so important to hang onto? What is it getting you”? We could also take the language of Alcoholics Anonymous and their twelve step program, each step of the program consists of variations on the theme of consciousness, surrender, taking inventory and making amends. Coming to know and understand who one is and what one can do if one remains present and takes authentic action. All of these coincide with the goals of good treatment. There may be many languages that speak to one’s experience: spiritual ones, philosophical ones, physical ones, group modalities and so on. Some of these, like meditation, address ways of arriving at awareness and self-regulation on one’s own, while others, like psychotherapy involve an ongoing experiential exchange with another. As a psychotherapist, being able to move between and betwixt languages and ways of thinking and experiencing, offers the flexibility to contact different people and different areas of functioning in different ways. Somewhat akin to being able to move across and within different cultures. Think about it. What makes sense to you?

Many of the concepts that I have come to regard as important in my clinical practice have come around again and touched me deeply through the physical practice of yoga or through my reading of Eastern philosophy or neuro-biological research, or through my experience of a particular piece of music, or through ongoing conversations and exchanges with patients, colleagues and loved ones.  Each of these languages carrying something known and re-discovered through their evocation of what they happen to touch in me. I think it is so for my patients as well. And perhaps for you. The language may be different, the path may vary but the outcome is the same. We feel as if we have discovered something, or arrived at something, and from that something possibilities abound. What is important is that we find the language(s) that makes sense to us and that helps us to elaborate who we are and who we want to be. In this sense, we are all multilingual and full of possibility.


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