What is a counselling for the whole of who we are?
Now and again, it happens in my work as a counsellor and in my personal life that the word, “holistic”, comes up. I like the word, I’ve liked it for a long while now, but it’s only recently that I’ve started to ask myself what exactly does it mean, and, more importantly, what do I mean when using it.
My Macquarie Concise Dictionary provides me with the following for the word, holism: “the philosophical theory that wholes (which are more than the mere sums of their parts) are fundamental aspects of the real.” This points to the notion that a thing is a thing in its own right, beyond what it is made of.
Much of our institutionalised learning in Western culture, over the last few centuries, focuses on analysis: breaking things down into their smallest parts in order to understand how they work. Consequently, when faced with a problem, we very naturally try to analyse it in order to discover which part is not functioning properly. Problems, whatever their nature, are viewed as though they belong to a machine, which can be fixed once we have found the faulty part. I have noticed, however, that there is one exception to this inclination toward analysis. It occurs when we are trying to understand who we are. While we are prepared to be analysing our problems until the end of time, we are loath to analyse our sense of being an I. It feels irreducible. Others I meet seem to organize their lives around the same instinct that “I” cannot be reduced to smaller parts without destroying the very thing being analysed. Despite viewing the rest of the world as being made up of ever smaller bits, we have difficulty experiencing ourselves, when we say, “I”, as anything but whole and irreducible. Our feeling of ourself is subtle and intimate.
Though analysing ourselves can be hugely helpful in understanding ourselves, it can also be problematic if we forget that we are always more than our separate parts. For the same reason that I can never be completely defined, I can never be completely observed. Observation does not give me an experience of “I”. To observe something I must stand apart from it. However, my experience of “I” is only possible when I stand within myself. It is crucial to realize this so that I don’t confuse an aspect of myself as being all of me. If I mistake a part of myself, one that I have consciously identified with most of my life, for example a part of me that is convinced that it invariably gets things wrong, I create a world for myself in which, try as I may, I can get nothing right.
It appears we find ourselves in a paradoxical situation that demands of us both the capacity to inwardly experience our wholeness and, also, to be able to view ourselves from the outside through the eyes of others so that we can rigourously monitor how accurate is our self-perception. A counselling for the whole of who we are will include both those distinct points of view.