Using Pain as a Tool for Healing

By Dan Perlman, LMSW

Many clients report a nearly debilitating emotional pain from their past or current relationships, which impacts their ability to think and can paralyze their decision making.  This brought to mind something I read in Principles: Life & Work a book by hedge fund manager Ray Dalio: “When you fall and you get banged up, reflect, there's a lesson there." While this may sound more like a social scientist than a calculating billionaire financier, it’s a powerful point I find applicable in session. When clients come in feeling their path forward is blocked anxiety or depression, I try to support them in breaking them free.  We work to harness the power of their pain and use it as fuel to move them forward. Just as Dialo says, we’ve got to “reflect” upon our pain to make “progress,” and that’s literally what we do. 

Thomas Edison said he didn’t fail, he just found 10,000 ways not to make a lightbulb. The 409 cleaner under our sinks was named for the 408 failures before the cleaning solution was perfected.  Pain isn’t always a bad thing —it is a message that something is wrong and we need to acknowledge it and find another way. Many people spend lifetimes avoiding the pain or backing out of therapy once confronted with the pain. Self-reflective clients take pain and turn it on it’s head to create learning opportunities. I believe the positivity we bring clients in session provides a holding vessel for their recovery. 

Putting it into formulaic terms,  Dalio says, “Pain + reflection=progress,” and that is helpful both on the trading desk and in the therapy room. 

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Dan Perlman is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your mental health, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.