Coming to Life

The Emergence of Self in the Human Life Cycle

James L. Doak

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ISBN: 0-931892-11-2, 152 pages, 5.5 x 8.5, paper, $9.95

Jim Doak works with those who are in the process of self-exploration and has written Coming to Life as a stimulus for those committed to recovering lost aspects of their human experience.

The model of psychotherapy described in this book is grounded in the principles of Gestalt, Bioenergetics, Object Relations, and the spiritual traditions of the East. It is written for the lay reader and is equally useful for those in therapy, those working independently, and those assisting others in the self-exploration, therapy process.

The goal of this book is to provide the reader with a perspective that can serve as a background for his or her own self-exploration, a process that can lead to greater vitality.

"Jim writes from the perspective of a professional counselor, so each chapter is like a mini-therapy session, gradually unveiling the layers of pain and fear that keep us from truly knowing and loving ourselves."

Table of Contents


1. What is Lost?
2. The Mechanics of Loss
3. The Development Perspective of Loss
4. The Interpersonal Aspects of Self-Diminishment

5. Depression and Anxiety
6. Maintaining Self-Loss
7. The Underlying Illusions

8. Self Recovery
9. Sharpening Gestalts
10. Therapy and the Therapy Hour

11. Intimacy, the Self and Others
12. Merging Beyond Humanity



In my years of practicing psychotherapy, it has been a challenge for me to discover central themes which underlie the myriad of stated problems that accompany my clients as we begin the self-exploration process. The question has been, "What is basic to human suffering and dissatisfaction in symptoms as far ranging as loss of direction, compulsive habits, depression, anxiety, poor interpersonal relating and the frequent complaint of general lack of aliveness and a decrease in richness in living?"

Many of my colleagues and I share the view that there are three basic conditions that contribute to these and other kinds of emotional dysfunction. They are, broadly stated, a loss of self, a decided lack of self-acceptance and self-support, and a lack of personal integration.

A loss of self refers to absence of awareness. It can pertain to lost feeling capacity, limited perceptive ability or reduced physical sensation. It can also refer to limited awareness of options (the creative process), and limits around possible behavior. In addition to these internal losses in experiences, many of us compound self-loss by losing our capacity for external awareness and allowing the world to affect our internal process. Both kinds of awareness loss have a profound effect on our ability to move toward a sense of well being.

The second condition, lack of self-acceptance and support, refers not to absence of self, but to self-judgment which interrupts personal experience. Awareness which is interrupted in this manner has little chance for deepening or completion, a process that is essential for our innate need for solidness and expansion.

The final phenomenon underlying dissatisfaction or dysfunction is the lack of personal integration. The differences in our inner and outer world must be brought together in some form. To the degree they are not, we will be confused, ambivalent, incomplete, and possibly immobilized.

With these three premises established, psychotherapy becomes a process of expanding self-awareness, establishing a greater sense of self-acceptance for what is known and what is discovered, and, finally, focusing on the unification of all that we are toward a sense of ease and gracefulness.

Although, as I practice it, therapy is not primarily an intellectual process, it can be useful to establish models as a structure or backdrop to the work itself. One of the models asks the question, "What have I lost?" Another way of putting this could be, "What of my original nature has been unduly repressed, or where am I underdeveloped in terms of the broad spectrum of human experience?" In this model we could envision beginning life "full of ourselves." This fullness would include sound health in mind and body, a sense of our own natural rhythm, physical awareness and a vast, uniquely varied potential for human experience.

As we journey through life, we always abandon some of our nature for the sake of our surrounding social order. We become socialized, which is an important process of containment and structuring. But socialization can be done in a way which extracts too heavy a price, the price of excessive self-loss and resultant reduction in aliveness.

Blue Dolphin Publishing, 1987

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