The Heart of a Therapist

Seated opposite a heart
that cries out for love,
thrashing about inside
the cage of its body,
wounding itself repeatedly,
I wring my hands,
twisting my whole body
in my therapist’s chair,
with my own heart
banging, crashing around
against ribs, breastbone,
clamouring to reach out.

Knowing I will dream
my mother dies again
and I’ll wake weeping,
aware that, if I could,
I would’ve done anything
to stop her suffering,
I would’ve reached in,
taken her bleeding heart
in my hands until
it had become peaceful
and because I couldn’t,
I can reach out to yours.


© Deborah Gregory 2022
Art by Catrin Welz-Stein

24 thoughts on “The Heart of a Therapist

  1. It’s just beautiful and heart-touching words in rhyme. I wished I could do the same (doing therapy with poems) when my mother died; however, I was only eighteen. Thank you, my lovely friend, for such a sad but beauteous trip.

    1. Thank you so much Aladin for your beautiful, heart-touching reply! I believe it’s never too late to write about our wounded heart. We don’t need to write like Shakespeare or the Poet Laureate, we just need to put down in words how we feel. I think haikus are a great way of getting the essence down and sometimes I write one of those before I write a longer poem. In other news, I hope last week’s trip to Lanzarote was enjoyable and deeply restful. Love and light, Deborah.

  2. Your beautiful poem struck a chord within me. Out of pain, comes beauty. So bittersweet and true. Do you bring poetry into your therapy practice?

    1. Many thanks BW for your beautiful reply! Yes, I do bring poems into my practice, client depending, as poetry doesn’t speak to everyone. However, one poem that many enjoy is “Autobiography in Five Chapters” by the American singer-songwriter, actress and author, Portia Nelson, especially when working with change. And despite discussing this poem often, I always discover something new about myself each time I read it. Now that’s good poetry to me!

      Chapter I

      I walk down the street.
      There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
      I fall in.
      I am lost… I am hopeless.
      It isn’t my fault.
      It takes forever to find a way out.

      Chapter II

      I walk down the same street.
      There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
      I pretend I don’t see it.
      I fall in again.
      I can’t believe I am in this same place.
      But it isn’t my fault.
      It still takes a long time to get out.

      Chapter III

      I walk down the same street.
      There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
      I see it there.
      I still fall in… it’s a habit… but,
      my eyes are open.
      I know where I am.
      It is my fault.
      I get out immediately.

      Chapter IV

      I walk down the same street.
      There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

      Chapter V

      I walk down another street.

  3. “…and because I couldn’t/I can reach out to yours.” You have certainly reached out across the ocean between us to my heart with your many wise and kind comments about my blog posts, especially the ones about dreams. I’m always so surprised and grateful for your kind responses with their wise seeing and deep understanding.

    I’m also grateful for your book suggestions. The Chymical Wedding and Mercurius were not only two of my top three favorite books for 2021, but are also now near the top of my all-time favorites list.

    You are someone who gives with all her heart. Thank you for the gift of your friendship. Have a happy and love-filled 2022. Jeanie

    1. Thank you so much Jeanie, you are a treasure … a kindred spirit, soul sister and wise woman for sure! I greatly enjoy our friendship too and I’m thrilled to have recommended two new favourites for you. At the moment the book on the very top of my bedside tower is another by Patrick Harpur, “The Secret Tradition of the Soul” which I’m about half way through and thoroughly enjoying. Hmm, I may have to read more of his work still.

      As for dream work, it’s always a joy and a privilege I feel to take a dive into another’s soul and hopefully surface with a cloudy pearl or two, for others to polish I add. Thank you for walking a while beside me in my life, I enjoy your company immensely. Love and light, Deborah.

  4. A beautiful, powerful and heart rending poem to start the New Year.

    The best therapists are the ones who have walked in the clients shoes, in some way, in their own life. They are the ones who have nurtured their own bleeding heart and struggles within their own journey, only then can they truly hold the heart of another to bring it peace.

    It’s not often that you write about your work Deborah, but you have done so here with an open heart and soulful truth that shines through.

    1. Thank you so much Sophia for your beautiful, kind-hearted reply which greatly encourages me to consider writing more poems about my work. Oh, I’ve just realised September will be my “Silver” anniversary!

      As a humanistic therapist I believe Carl Roger’s three core conditions of empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard go a long way in helping many therapists create positive therapeutic relationships.

      And yes to therapists who “walk their talk” rather than pay “lip service” to a pile of text books! From what you’ve shared it sounds like you hold a positive view about therapy in general. Love and light, Deborah.

    1. Ah, many thanks Cath for your beautiful, poetic reply! Hope the New Year finds you well. Love and light, Deborah.

    1. Oh, that’s wonderful! Thank you so much Luisa for your kind-hearted reply. Looking forward to catching up with you tomorrow. Your recent Shakespeare posts were just incredible! I’m still baffled by everything. You’re a genius! Love and light, Deborah.

  5. Deborah, the way you bring your two interlocking hearts together, one of therapist and client and the other of mother and daughter is incredible. Lest we forget the silver lining of enjoying your big heart. I have to say in two short verses you’ve deepened my belief in love and kindness all round. I really enjoyed how you weaved life, death, dream, mother, love, all together in one small poem. Poetry and therapy are absolutely your vocations in life. All the best, Anna.

    1. Two inter-locking hearts, I love that! Thank you so much Anna for your fantastic reply! I had a dream once a few years ago when a friend’s husband turned round at the end of the dream and said something like, “Kindness is all that matters in the end.” I may have got it slightly wrong but his words were carved into my heart that night. It’s been a dream and a pleasure and such an honour to have been a therapist these past 24 and a quarter years and a poet for much longer … or maybe I was a quasi-therapist as a child?! Hmm, now that would make sense! Love and light, Deborah.

      1. One day you finally knew
        what you had to do, and began,
        though the voices around you
        kept shouting
        their bad advice —
        though the whole house
        began to tremble
        and you felt the old tug
        at your ankles.
        “Mend my life!”
        each voice cried.
        But you didn’t stop.
        You knew what you had to do,
        though the wind pried
        with its stiff fingers
        at the very foundations,
        though their melancholy
        was terrible.
        It was already late
        enough, and a wild night,
        and the road full of fallen
        branches and stones.
        But little by little,
        as you left their voice behind,
        the stars began to burn
        through the sheets of clouds,
        and there was a new voice
        which you slowly
        recognized as your own,
        that kept you company
        as you strode deeper and deeper
        into the world,
        determined to do
        the only thing you could do —
        determined to save
        the only life that you could save.

        Mary Oliver
        The Journey

        1. Wow, thank you Anna! Mary Oliver’s amazing poem overflows with wisdom doesn’t it! Especially into the importance of becoming the author of one’s life. And sometimes, as the poet intimates, we have to literally leave those people who are not good for us, family or otherwise, behind. The self-reliance, courage and integrity needed to undertake this task alone will be ab-soul-utely necessary as our journey is always a solitary (and often a deeply spiritual) one as we move towards change. No wonder therapists and clients alike can relate to this poem!

          The lines that always catch me are when Mary mentions the “road full of fallen branches and stones” alluding to the physical, mental, psychological and even spiritual struggles we must all face on our journeys. Long and difficult I know yet on the way for all of us there are births, marriages and opportunities, if taken, to experience love and beauty and hear one’s own voice. What freedom it is to move “deeper and deeper” into life and to take a very different journey whether we find our wisdom in a book, or in a film, we’re always sitting opposite another’s heart.

  6. What else can a poet do but pick up the pen and write – especially when the image is so graphic and heart rending.

    If I could … those words always give cause for pause and deep reflection. We imagine all sorts of what ifs. And we learn from them. As you have in your reaching out, for which I thank you Deborah.

    Be at ease – you’ve given shape and form to pain, healing in its own way. Love, Susan

    1. What a wonderful reply! Thank you so much Susan from the bottom of my heart for gifting me such words to describe what I sometimes fail to express adequately! You’re right, writing does give shape and form to my pain.

      When I woke this morning I felt struck dumb by the magnitude of the dream. I mean, I couldn’t believe my mother was telling me that a long estrangement had been necessary as part of our relationship, because that way I could grow up and fulfil my vocation.

      To dream that my mother was saying this was just amazing! Love and light, Deborah.

  7. Dear Poet Deborah, my heart pounds as I read this . I know/feel it’s true that you would have saved your mother from grief if possible and that makes you the best of therapists. I know you would also save me when I cry out and wring my hands. Thank you for reaching out to your mother and to everyone who cries out.

    Your dream reminds me of the anguish I felt in early dreams after Vic died–the love and hopelessness of wanting to save what couldn’t be saved. Love and hope and peace to you.

    1. Thank you so much dear Elaine for your beautiful, kind-hearted reply and friendship! Oh, the heart is a beautiful thing! Following last night’s dream, I wrote this upon waking. Hmm, so much for my planned hibernation and rabbit hole adventures I thought as I scribbled away, laughing at the very idea that I’m in control of my creative imagination!

      2022 marks 25 years this September since I attended my first introductory course and started on this path of the heart as a psychotherapist back in 1997. Although therapy is a subject I rarely write about this poem came knocking rather loudly and so what else can a poet do but pick up a pen and open their favourite notebook. Love and light, Deborah.

      1. I want the Monarchs to knock down the door, but they’re whispering creatures. I listen and look at my photos, hoping they’ll guide me, but at this point I’m starting all over again in terms of structure. Somewhere along the way, I lost my map. Maybe there’s a new one waiting for me.

        1. Hmm, perhaps losing our maps is best because then, like generations of writers and monarchs before us, we’re able to allow our internal genetically, encoded compasses to determine the direction of write and flight. Plus, I’m a great believer of the old proverb about the journey being the reward. Oh, I’m very excited to hear another whisper about your new book!

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