Change Through Suffering ll Rich Brodt

Change through Suffering
By Rich Brodt

Change. It’s something that we all seek in therapy, whether we are the client or the counselor. The goal is movement – to gain awareness such that we can step out of our negative patterns of thinking and behaving. However, it is important to remember that human beings tend to avoid pain at all costs. Looking at statistics for substance abuse trends in the United States makes this clear. We avoid pain of even the most temporary kind whenever we can.

Carl Jung once said that “[p]eople will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” This is how the avoidance of pain relates to therapy. Jung also said that “[t]here is no coming to consciousness without pain.”

Pain is an inevitable part of life.

Unfortunately, in our never-ending attempts to avoid pain, we also avoid the growth that can arise from facing that pain head on. In a session, this may be as simple as a client avoiding certain topics because they are uncomfortable. In those cases, it is the counselor’s responsibility to educate their client on the benefits of their suffering as well as the benefits of facing their own demons.

In the past, I have written about the importance of facing one’s own darkness in order to grow through therapy. A nonjudgmental acceptance of those thoughts, I argued, would lead to a better understanding of the self, as well as increased self-acceptance. Here, however, I want to emphasize a different point: that horrific, traumatic experiences can lead us to levels of self-discovery that may have taken us years to otherwise arrive at.

Why would this be the case? Because something outside of our control happening to us forces us to face what we have been avoiding. After a traumatic event, an individual may experience extreme anxiety, dissociation, recurring thoughts, hyper vigilance and several other symptoms. These symptoms create pain that is impossible to avoid. After trauma, these symptoms can feel so huge that they are difficult to calm with coping mechanisms that may have worked for an individual in the past. They will feel overwhelmed. But, most importantly, they can make the decision to ask for help. This act alone is a huge part of the process. It acts as an acknowledgement that, yes, I am in pain, and, no, I can’t face this all on my own. The next step is to take a closer look at that pain and where it comes from.

To understand what causes us pain is to take a step closer to seeing how we can alleviate it. An unfortunate event such as a traumatic incident, while terrible at the time, often leads to deeper insight about who we can be if we are willing to do the work to get there. Anyone who has experienced PTSD will tell you that some days the world feels overwhelming, responsibilities creep up, and the world itself feels like a dangerous place to exist. The energy of the individual with PTSD is directed outward, vigilantly scanning the world for threats, becoming agitated in crowds, becoming so overwhelmed with outside stimulation that they dissociate.

In this suffering, there is an opportunity to look inward.

The individual can ask questions like: What will make me feel safe? What do I need to do to calm my nerves? The answers will often force the individual to take action. An individual with PTSD will usually benefit from physical exercise. However, not all individuals have the discipline to work out on a regular basis. The desire to rid one’s self of suffering is often enough of a motivator that someone with PTSD becomes willing to be transformed by a commitment to a physical activity.

Physical activity pulls us out of our cerebral machinations and forces us to be present in our bodies. Our bodies are far better at understanding whether or not we are in danger than our minds are. The mind may be focused on this one traumatic event, and as a result, it is constantly looking for threats in any setting. When we constantly scan for threats, we inevitably find them, regardless of whether or not we are in actual danger. Moving into the body helps to change our awareness and bring us to a more mindful consciousness. This allows us to recognize the difference between real danger and that which is merely perceived. Coupled with the increased discipline that comes with regular physical activity, an individual may come out of their traumatic event with deeper insights about themselves and their ability to change. While we can grow without trauma, I like to emphasize that trauma doesn’t have to negatively effect an individual forever.

Instead, it can be a stepping-stone to a new outlook.

Rich Brodt is a former intern at People House, and is currently a co-owner and private practitioner at Elevated Counseling, PLLC in the Highlands area of Denver. Prior to training to become a therapist, Rich practiced as a mental health litigation attorney in New York City, where he first became passionate about the field. Rich draws on knowledge of law, philosophy and poetry, bringing a unique perspective to his sessions.

Rich’s current practice utilizes a client-centered approach, integrating Gestalt, existential and depth approaches. He focuses his practice trauma and anxiety-related issues, including PTSD, high-stress careers, life transitions and other major stressors. Rich’s first priority in counseling is to create a safe, non-judgmental space, where clients can feel comfortable sharing and processing their most difficult thoughts.


Elevated Counseling, PLLC
2727 Bryant Street Suite 550
Denver, CO 80211
Ph: (720) 295-1352

People House: a Center for Personal and Spiritual Growth