I recently came across this powerful quote in the book You Can Fight for Your Life by Lawrence LeShan, a now rather dated but fascinating book about his pioneering research on the cancer-prone personality and the emotional aspects of cancer treatment. The quote is from Gotthard Booth and it struck me as being a powerful alternative perspective when faced with life threatening or chronic illness.
What is meant by considering illness as having something to do with the purpose in one’s life? Surely, illness is not meant to be endured by any of us, and most certainly how can it provide guidance as to how one should live to one’s potential? To be sure, the idea that illness can ‘wake us up’ to the business of living is a challenging one.
With the recent death of Stephen Sutton, the teenage cancer sufferer who raised £4m for charity during the last years of his short life, we are presented with an impressive example of illness driving life purpose if ever there was one.
Sadly, for many of us, we wait for illness to strike before we seek to know the purpose of our lives. Most people live without a conscious concept of the purpose of their life.
Much of the work in transpersonal psychotherapy is to enable clients to explore and discover the meaning of their lives. Finding existential meaning sits at the crossroads of the psychological and spiritual nature of being; why are we here? What is the purpose of life? What does my life mean? These are the kinds of questions which demand exploration and ‘answers’ at times of health crisis or indeed in preparation for the end of one’s life. Facing a life threatening or chronic illness forces us to develop qualities which may have been dormant within us. Courage, hope, compassion, love, forgiveness and gratitude may be such qualities needing to become conscious at this time. Much has been written about the changes of heart experienced by those facing life or death situations and of how many consider their illness as having an ultimately positive impact on the quality of their life and relationships.
Certainly, therapy can be enormously beneficial for those facing life threatening or chronic illness. When viewed from Booth’s perspective that illness is a reminder of the purpose of life, therapeutic work can work to enrich a client’s experience of their illness in their life, and to encourage growth and development even in the most difficult circumstances.
If you are interested in exploring health and illness related issues in therapy, contact me at my Wimbledon counselling practise, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ref: LeShan, L. (1980). You Can Fight for Your Life: Emotional factors in the treatment of cancer. M. Evans Incorporated.