“Psychotherapy is My Political Party”
It’s 2007, I lived in beautiful Cracow and for two years I have been doing my dream work – I’m a psychotherapist. I have just finished the School of Psychotherapy. I have my patients, an excellent supervisor and friends, also psychotherapists, with whom I am constantly communicating about our work.
One day suddenly this thought pops up: why hasn’t anyone ever written a book about the beginning of Polish Psychotherapy? How is it possible in difficult and uninspiring times a small group of people began and developed a revolutionary approach to understand and treat psychiatric patients? Thanks to this new approach a psychiatric patient became a human being, a person, an individual who is responsible for his/her own treatment and life.
That revolution has irreversibly changed the Polish psychiatric system, the lives of patients and their families, the medical staff and also the mentality of the Polish people. Psychotherapy brought the awareness, the language and the tools that have opened up what’s incomprehensible, strange and painful in all of us.
The thought about writing such a book became my dream and it took me another… six years to accomplish it. The book consists of twenty interviews with the first Polish professional psychotherapists and supervisors. They share their personal stories and individual perspectives on Polish psychotherapy and its development.
During those years I frequently had to deal with all sorts of obstacles. A few times I had to start over. Many times I felt tired, lonely and lost. There was a moment when my family and friends advised me to quit (and I can understand why). But every time when I felt helpless new people or resources showed up and gave me the energy to go on.
For me writing that book was a huge acceleration in my professional and personal development. I probably made all possible mistakes of a beginning author. And then I made even more mistakes during the publication and marketing process. I received tremendous kindness, support and real help. I also received criticism.
The book “Psychotherapy is My Political Party” was finally published in 2013. It’s an expression of my gratitude and appreciation for the first generations of Polish psychotherapists for introducing humanistic values to Polish psychiatry and society. In this book I also wanted to honour hundreds of psychiatric patients and their families who were always pivotal in transformations.
See more about the book:
In early autumn 2008 I received an invitation for the Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreat. Although I had expressed earlier that I’d be interested in taking part in this retreat, the moment I got the invitation “for real,” I was terrified. It wasn’t because I had never been to the Auschwitz Museum. Actually I’d been there twice as a student. Nor was it because I have a personal story connected to that place. Neither because I was going there alone. No, I was invited together with my best friend by the Polish coordinator, Andrzej Krajewski, whom we knew quite well. The truth is, I could not really explain the fear I felt. But it was huge.
Despite the fact the fear was growing more with time, I decided to go. The name “Bearing Witness” explains the first of the main tenets of the retreat: we don’t go there to have a guided tour, visit or discuss history. We go there for almost five days and we stay in the place with the intention to listen to the place as if it were our teacher.
No matter how weird it may sound that was basically what I’ve done there. Incomprehensibly I’ve experienced, very strongly, that the place which is the symbol of unbelievable suffering and barbarity can also be a place of powerful healing. During the retreat I met people from all over the world, including people from Rwanda, who shared their personal stories of pain, fear and being excluded, which sounded very universal and human to me.
Surprisingly, I kept coming back to the retreat every year for about eight or nine times. At some point I was fortunate to start serving as a staff member and a group facilitator.
Each year I had to deal with my fear again and again. And not only fear but also pain, sorrow, crying, rage, a sense of vulnerability, not-knowing, loss, grief, trauma. The more I was ready to open myself to those kinds of feelings, the deeper I was able to experience joy, love, compassion, gratitude, safety, trust and peace. Not only during the retreat but also in my life. The opportunity of listening to personal stories of people from different countries, race, religion, age, professions and genders turned out to be the greatest school I’ve attended and it has shaped me forever. That retreat has extended my understanding of who I am and who we are as humans.
One of the many consequences of coming to the Auschwitz retreat was an invitation for the Ravensbrück Retreat for Women in Germany, in which I participated a few times. I’m deeply grateful for that possibility and the friendships that have grown from those encounters.
Another outcome of the Auschwitz retreat was meeting my husband. Yes, Auschwitz opened my heart and opened it permanently… but that’s the beginning of another story.
Cracow – Paris – Massachusetts U.S. – Ghent
It’s summer 2014. I live in beautiful Cracow (Poland) where I have a very interesting job as a psychotherapist and trainer. Just recently I have published a book on Polish Psychotherapy. My friends are here, my family lives close by and over the years I’ve built my private and professional network here. And I love this city!
On top of that a month ago I got engaged! My fiancé is a Belgian living in Paris at the moment. We are to get married in a year and then we’re going to live together.
And one day I decide to “close” my life in Cracow and join my fiancé.
He immediately agrees. Soon after that we take the decision that I will move to his place in Paris in November, which gives me three months. Three months to stop “a fully running train” as my life was at that time, sounds challenging… but I trust my choice. I’m confident, enthusiastic and very optimistic. My good energy helps me take all the steps necessary and makes it easier and faster.
Difficult moments occur when I have to finish the ongoing therapies with my patients and then say goodbye to family and friends.
Three months later my fiancé and I set off from Cracow to Paris. In our old Golf packed to the ceiling. The trip seems very symbolic. I feel extremely happy. I’m going to live with my beloved in Paris! Wow!
We will live in a zen centre, where my fiancé has already rented a small room as a zen practitioner. I also practise zen, but living in a zen centre, with its busy schedule to follow, being constantly surrounded by people I don’t know and sharing a very small room as a young couple – that’s my first big challenge. Very little privacy, everything and everybody new.
The next challenge comes up soon after. I don’t find any work. From being a very independent woman who was always busy and passionate about her work, I have nothing to do now. I start learning French without much success and I advertise as a psychologist in Paris but not much happens. It also means no income for me.
After two months of living together, my fiancé and I start having arguments and we often get ill. Additionally, our preparations for the wedding don’t go so well. We have to deal with all sorts of formal barriers and requirements. I start missing Cracow and everything I’ve left behind.
In these circumstances I can’t fully enjoy living in Paris. I have quite a few symptoms of mourning, including increasing unexpected fear. The intensive meditation practice we do at the centre opens the space to feel all that. That’s very helpful in my emotional process but it’s not so convenient… It seems that I still have some serious inner work to do.
In the meantime we receive an invitation for a wonderful and free training in NYC! That makes us excited but… we have no money to travel and stay. Miraculously all the money comes to us. And miraculously the day before our flight I get my visa for the U.S. We book our first two nights on the day we are leaving.
NYC; the training and meeting friends make me feel much better, recharged and more optimistic. And at the very end of our journey we unexpectedly get an invitation from our zen teacher from Massachusetts, Bernie Glassman, to assist him for about three months. Wow, we’re speechless.
We come back “walking on air”. Shortly after that the invitation gets even more specific and longer: my husband is invited to help write a new book, and I’m to support the organisation Zen Peacemakers which I’ve known from my history with the Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreat.
Apart from that, it’s summer. Eventually I can fully enjoy and appreciate Paris. I’ve also made some personal and professional contacts and start doing some work. When I finally find the wedding dress, the paperwork for the wedding doesn’t bother me anymore. And my fear starts to go down.
Our plan is to stay one more year in Paris. Then travel for six months around the world. Then go to the U.S. Then, just before our wedding, we decide to move out of the zen centre and immediately start the second part of our plans.
Our wedding is beautiful.
After the wedding we leave Paris with the intention to travel for the next six months. However, our plans change again. Since we don’t have money, we have to relinquish most of our travelling dreams. But we did the walk along the Saint Francis route. Which means that the whole of January 2016 we walked with our backpacks in Umbria and Tuscany!
Extraordinary, unforgettable, amazing.
And three weeks before leaving to the U.S., on our last day in Assisi, we got a message that Bernie had a stroke. His state was difficult. Would we go anyway? It was clear that the book project would be impossible. But we could still go to support him and his wife in the recovery process.
Which we did and which was a life changing experience for us.
Bernie recovered very well in his unique style and energy. It was a profound journey to assist he and his wife, Eve Marko, in this very vulnerable moment of their life. And for us it was a possibility to settle down a bit as a couple and enjoy living in beautiful Massachusetts.
Six months passed quickly and we came back to Europe, Belgium. I have never lived here. My husband re-immigrated to his town and his previous job and I… well, I started a new life in a brand new country, with a new language (and still don’t really speak), a new environment, new people, looking for a new job.
Two months after our coming to Ghent it turned out that we were going to have a baby and again it was a completely new situation for us as all of you who are parents know well.