The Nature of “Healing”

Photo: Dog running on beach.

Ideas about the nature of “healing” are regularly batted around the culture of psychotherapy. The word ”transformation” also comes up, which feels sympathetic with a depth psychological perspective, but can also sound somewhat grand and mysterious, although not in the following poem by Stephen Dunn. I like how Dunn highlights the resistance to change that is a regular part of psychotherapy, along with the felt sense of being on the other side, after the transformation, when we can see we have “healed.”


The new man unfolded a map and pointed

to a dark spot on it. “See, that’s how

far away I feel all the time, right here,

among all of you,” he said.

“Yes,” John the gentle mule replied,

“alienation is clearly your happiness.”

But the group leader interrupted,

“Now, now, let’s hear him out,

let’s try to be fair.” The new man felt

the familiar comfort of everyone against him.

He went on about the stupidities

of love, life itself as one long foreclosure,

until another man said, “I was a hog,

a terrible hog, and now I’m a llama.”

To which another added, “and me, I was a wolf.

Now children walk up to me, unafraid.”

The group leader asked the new man,

“What kind of animal have you been?”

“A rat that wants to remain a rat,” he said,

and the group began to soften

as they remembered their own early days,

the pain before the transformation.

—Stephen Dunn, Everything Else in the World

“Healing,” “transformation,” whatever we call it, can be profound or subtle. Sometimes it’s a small shift in how one is in the world or how one sees oneself. That’s all that’s needed to right that feeling of somehow being all wrong (or wronged). But sometimes a big change is required, like a hog turning into a llama. When this happens, there is usually a need to drop well-honed “human” defenses — the stonewalling, the addictions, the slick arguments, the sly manipulations and passive aggressions — and trust the need for love and play that resides in all of us…and simply let go.


Pain is an inevitable part of the journey. The pain lasts the longest when we resist acknowledging to ourselves that the best we can do is get out of our own way. The reward is great when we finally stop defending against pain. We become more human, more compassionate with ourselves and others.


Dunn, Stephen. 2008. Everything Else in the World. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.


© 2012 Laura K Kerr, PhD. All rights reserved (applies to writing and photography). [Revised & reposted]

The Nature of “Healing” was originally published @ Laura K Kerr, PhD and has been syndicated with permission.


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