Branka Jakelić is a psychotherapist whose approach to human growth is full of wisdom, warmth and symbolicism, which is rare in today’s world. She shared with us her rich experience in the field of personal growth and psychotherapy.
The second edition of your book “Searching For Yourself”, first published in 1997, is coming soon. Can you briefly tell us what it is about?
There was the saying at the doors of the Delphic Prophecy; “Know Thyself.” Finding yourself and the essence of one’s being is the most important and challenging adventure we can imagine. It is the start of all the other adventures. The book’s subtitle is “The Challenges and Pitfalls of Inner Travel.” It tackles some of the elements of that journey. Human destiny in essence (through the parable of the Oedipus myth), levels of existence, psychic and spiritual development, crises, dramas, personalities and inner conflicts that lurk beneath the masks we wear before the world, suffering, grace, play, and joy that they follow us – in short, it touches the various faces of the kaleidoscope of life.
You are also the author of “Sandals with Wings” and “Speech of the Dream”. Is book writing important in the context of your therapeutic work?
To me, the two are inseparable. Although seemingly independent of one another, they actually complement each other. I have been writing since early childhood, and since early childhood, I have been interested in the background of visible things, what is beneath a word, a smile or a frown. And, yes, I would say that writing is as important to my therapeutic work, since the process of personal growth and working with people encourage me to write.
How did you decide to become a therapist?
Since I was little, my interests revolved around three things: music, books, and the questions of “who I am and what am I doing here.” They have driven my paths, led me through choices of schools, colleges, books, workshops and years of education. On the other hand was life and its demands that had to be dealt with, answered to. Of course, through that, I was learning about some important things and changing. Over time, a desire was born to share some of the experience and knowledge I have gained in the process with others, to help them get through some difficult moments, to take an interest in themselves, and to begin to view problems as a challenge and an opportunity to learn and grow rather than as an obstacle that hinders the fulfillment of their desires.
The first time I read your texts, I was drawn in by a different approach to personal development, full of symbolism and wisdom. Is this a reflection of your work as a therapist? How do you look at the relationship between psychological and spiritual development?
It is difficult for me to say whether my approach to personal development is a reflection of my therapeutic work or whether my therapeutic work is a reflection of personal research and work on myself and with other people. Psychological and spiritual in my opinion are inseparable. We are both psychic and spiritual beings; one level of existence affects the other and vice versa. Ideally, these two levels overlap, stimulate, coordinate and develop in parallel. Unfortunately, the aspects and levels of the human being are much more incompatible, for example, among spiritually open people you may find those who are barely functioning in everyday life, while some whose life seems to be harmonious and without any problems, make no real sense.
In your articles and books, you often define a crisis as an opportunity for growth. Can you briefly elaborate on that?
“No problem can be solved at the same level of consciousness that created it,” said Albert Einstein. There is always a need for a change in the perspective. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus used to say that we could not step twice into the same river; everything flows and changes. Along the way, some old things must fall away to make room for the things to come. New ones we don’t know about yet. The old is known, we somehow manage it, the new scares us with its unknown. We often experience these stages of transition as crises; the old, familiar door has closed forever, the new one can’t be seen yet and that is not an easy place to be. But this is precisely the impetus for rethinking, exploring, and through this process, we change, learn, grow. It is said that man is as mature as a number of crises can handle in his lifetime. I would agree with that. To live is to be alive, which means being open to the eternal flow and all the changes it brings.
Do you think that psychological issues are often medicalized in today’s society? How would you explain this phenomenon?
Our civilization is prone to suppression and “quick” solutions. This is also the root of various addictions such as drugs, alcohol, etc. which cloud the consciousness and prevent the look inwards. Certainly, medications are sometimes needed, to bring about a sort of chemical balance, they are a valuable crutch to help a person move through life more easily and master everyday tasks. However, they cannot resolve a person’s deep internal conflicts and, with this type of support, it would be desirable for her to work on her own with medication. To become aware of and treat his traumas through therapy and to learn how to use one’s potentials in a better way.
Relatively early in your life you went through a difficult experience with leukemia. What effect did this have on you?
Leukemia has been just one of a series of diagnoses I have been receiving since I was aware of myself. At some point, I began to wonder how these illnesses are related to me, my soul and the unrest that tears me apart. Many times later I used to say that leukemia was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. She encouraged me to ask a lot of questions, to change. Of course, the process of going through this experience, chemotherapy and all the side effects was not pleasant. My previous world was falling apart, it took time to find some new paths closer to the real me, ones that I slowly allowed to come to the surface. There was a lot of doubt, fear, distrust. Simultaneously, there was a lot of gifts. Much of what I am now and how I live now is because of that experience.
You are currently attending Peter A. Levine’s education, Somatic Experiencing, dealing with somatic work. How would you describe relationship between emotions and body in therapeutic work?
A human being is a wholesome being, living and functioning on many levels. Everything we experience refracts through each of them. The body remembers, our cells remember all the moments we have ever experienced. At the unconscious level, there are no dead people, ancestors, or other people who are no longer in our lives. The array of unspoken things and unfinished business with them is still there, it is eternal now and here, and it affects the situations and relationships that are part of our current daily lives. Rational cognition and insight are just the tips of the iceberg. Below that, the whole big world is full of all kinds of colors and in therapy work, it is important to pay attention to it.
Does man develop himself as a therapist?
Being a therapist for me is a calling, a precious task that also involves deep contact, a deep relationship with another human being. To be able to do this, we need to be honest and willing to work on ourselves literally at any moment, because if we are not able to face ourselves and our own darkness, if we are not ready to stand and face our emotions, to challenge and re-examine our own thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs, how can we meet another man or help him on his journey? Of course, education, therapeutic techniques and skills are important, but above all, honesty and openness are important. Without that, there is neither personal development nor relationship development with other people.
And finally, what is the most valuable lesson you have learned through years of personal development and therapeutic work with people?
Like all children, I thought life only had an upward flow. Over time, I have learned that it is not so, that the ups and downs alternate through it, and that every time we fall, the abyss into which we have fallen seems to be deeper and more difficult to overcome than ever before. However, over time, I began to notice that with each coming out of it, a piece of inner freedom that had not existed or had not been seen before opens. Over time, different, more aware people open to learning from their own problems began to come to therapy. Some of them went on to psychotherapy education themselves. This joint research is wonderful, and I often wonder who the teacher is and who the student is because each of us carries the essence of both.