Each of us takes a path in life. We usually have some idea of what our goals are, and we set out to achieve them. For some it is a rather straight line, for others a twisted winding road, and for many it is a rocky, steep, treacherous climb. But whatever path we are on, we are always free to make a u-turn, choose a different path, and keep trying to find the best answer, the best vehicle, the best way to get where we want to go. Even philosophers (and politicians) change their views over their lifetime as they learn, encounter other ideas, and develop as human beings.
Selecting a Path Toward Healing
In grad school, we were taught a variety of different approaches towards healing a wounded soul. Person-Centered therapy supports one’s own internal wisdom by gently encouraging and affirming and emphasizing things that are said. Cognitive therapy helps reframe a person’s experience and move towards instituting healthier patterns in thinking. Family therapy looks at the social context of interactions, helping to make them more positive. Behavioral therapy challenges the dysfunctional behaviors that keep the client from experiencing a fulfilling life. Group therapy works to give the client feedback as too how they are perceived by others and to allow them to receive support and challenges from fellow clients. Adlerian, Bowenian, Object Relations: there are numerous other approaches, but all work towards the same goal: a healthier client.
Not once in grad school did we fight about which path to take. Some of us were eclectic and took elements from one theory or another; some pursued further studies, as I did, in expanding a particular theoretical approach. I was fortunate to attend post-graduate training at The Family Therapy Institute in Santa Barbara, and Art Therapy training at UCSB. At FTI, I met many other up and coming young therapists, witnessed the pros at work behind a one-way glass, and expanded my theoretical toolbox. Art therapy proved to be a way to connect with inner demons for many nonverbal clients and worked beautifully with children. I remember being interested in further psychoanalytical training at one point, but because of time and circumstance, chose another path. Life is often like that.
Paths to Healing in Animal Advocacy
Now that I am working as a vegan advocate, I find that the goal sometimes gets lost. It is almost as if the path is the thing that matters, not the destination at all. It would be like someone attacking me for being a cognitive therapist when they prefer a psychoanalytical approach, forgetting altogether about the client. The contributing factors in determining which path to take are individual, and depend upon the personal experiences and characteristics of the therapist, and the type of clients with which that therapist will ultimately work. No one gets to select which theory anyone else chooses. All we can do is learn and discuss, and let each person make their own choice. Personally, I would prefer to fly to get to Santa Barbara these days; others might prefer to take the train or go by car. It would depend upon your timeframe, financial situation, and prior experiences. It would be your choice. Metaphorically, I would just hope we would both get to Santa Barbara at some point. (It is a beautiful city along the California Coast near my prior domicile.)
Therapy is not done to the client, it is done with the client, a path we travel together. I can recall once thinking I helped a client make a brilliant connection only to find out the client heard something completely different. One thing they all recalled, though: how it felt to travel together. This is an important point in animal advocacy, where there are widely divergent beliefs about helping animals. Some people think that if you are not on the exact same path using the exact same methods, you are somehow the enemy to the cause. I have witnessed advocates disrespecting other advocates for the type of advocacy, for their preferred way to work towards change, and even for their chosen venue. Yet it appears to be a continual evolution, rather than a button one selects, in learning how best to help effect social change of this magnitude. And it is dependent upon our individual education, experiences and outlook on life — and no one can change that for us.
Do All Paths Lead to Rome?
We were schooled in the phrase, “All Paths Lead to Rome,” meaning there are many routes to health; no one approach is the only way. I call myself an abolitionist but disagree at times with other abolitionists. I disagree with working for welfare reform that only perpetuates the institutional use of animals as things rather than recognizing them as persons, individuals with feelings and a right to life. Advocacy is not something I do to someone, it is something I do with someone, it is a journey we travel together. I cannot possibly travel my journey on anyone else’s path but my own. Like in therapy, I try to respect those with whom I am working and let time and their own internal wisdom do the rest. Part of my training was to honor the process, not just the content, of what was going on. In animal advocacy, that means how I advocate is as important as what I am advocating (or in this case, for whom). If I alienate others, the process dies on the vine.
Find your own path, but please keep moving towards the goal: that animals are sentient beings that deserve the right to their lives, the right to be our traveling companions on earth, and not our transport. Find the path that leads to peace: for the animals, for the earth, for the future.