News and Insights

The art of the intervention

Being a therapist is humbling – I love and am challenged daily by the work of being a therapist. No matter how much one thinks one knows from books, training, and mentors, it is only in the doing that one learns. The art of timing the therapeutic intervention is incredibly nuanced. I was reminded of this, and deeply moved by a passage in a novel I’m reading, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (thanks to my husband for this recommendation – what a good feminist!).

For those who haven’t heard of this book, it is a re-telling of the epic story of King Arthur, but through the eyes of a woman. A woman priestess of the old Goddess religons. It is a beautiful story of the moment in history when both Christianity and the old Pagan beliefs co-existed. And how the Goddess faiths were eventually subsumed by Christianity, and with that, the Goddess Herself.

The main protagonist in the story, Morgaine, is training to be a Priestess:

It was the small magics which came hardest, forcing the mind first to walk in unaccustomed paths. To call the fire and raise it at command, to call the mists to bring rain – all these were simple, but to know when to bring rain or mist and when to leave it in the hands of the Gods, that was not so simple.(Zimmer Bradley, 1982, p. 137)

This is so much like therapy – learning how to intervene in a supportive way is the easy part. Knowing the timing for such an intervention is more difficult. When do we leave it in the hands of the client, trusting their innate drive toward health? And when do they need our interventions? These are the subtleties of the work that come through self-reflection, experience, and many many trials and errors. One thing I do know – we only have to be good enough, not perfect. What a relief!

1 Comment

  1. Brian

    Thanks for this. Sounds like a worthwhile novel. I’ve always wondered about how Morgana Le Fay got a negative rap for being both a woman and a non-Christian. It brings to mind many levels of possible meanings of the Arthurian mythology–from the phallic Excalibur (removing it from the safe restraint of the Earth so it can “do some damage” in the hands of the male hero), to the reification of the archetypically feminine Grail as something to “posses” by the Knights’ Order, to the hypocrisy of Merlin utilizing forces of nature and magic in the name of a cause that rebukes such practices, etc. I’m sure neither side of this equation is all good or all bad (like any myth/archetype), but I’m certain that historically, it hasn’t been “loaded” in favor of the feminine end, and thus some counter-balancing is indicated (with respect to raising collective awareness of the imbalance, and to ways of restoring the balance).

    As for therapy, yes timing means a lot. I think it boils down to intervening in such a way that bears in mind how the client is ultimately the agent of their own change, and that the therapist can only be a helper, in various ways. Intervention is helping the client do what she/he needs to do. To me, the determinism of the “fate” and “destiny” in the Arthurian paradigm is counter to the principle of self-determinism in some ways (although, one may argue that it is an expression of personal power and responsibility, in other ways). All depends upon how one looks at it (just like in therapy!).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *