Anam Cara, A Call to Conscious Living

Anam Cara, A Call to Conscious Living


John O’Donohue, in his book Anam Cara, explains that, in the Gaelic language, there are two powerful words that serve to awaken us and assess the depth of our lives and relationships. These two words are Anam Cara. In the Celtic tradition Anam Cara means “Soul Friend”. An Anam Cara is a teacher, companion, and spiritual guide. One with whom we can reunite with our interior world, and share our deepest hidden intimacies, without judgement or criticism. With an Anam Cara we can reveal the pain, hope, joy, and fears in the deepest recesses of our mind and heart.

This Anam Cara relationship transcends the conventional understanding of any relationship previously known as well as the understanding of others. Once encountered, there is a reverence, a humility, and a wisdom that reveals a recognition, a “knowing”, with a connectedness, allowing us to discover and express our most authentic self. This relationship creates a sense of belonging and acceptance that is timeless.

All that most of us want is to be loved, regarded, and accepted, just as we are. We long to be seen and understood without pretention or performance. Most of us long to step from behind the mask and be known, welcomed, and celebrated. When this happens, we are truly at home.

The Anam Cara holds that creative tension whereby we individuate, find our voice, and having listened, hear our own wisdom. It is in this place we experience safety through our vulnerability. In this place we confess that we really “do not know” and therein become teachable. It is here we find that what we thought was so shameful or reprehensible, is the path to the divine and where we had thought we were utterly alone, we find we are with all mankind.

In this loving consciousness, where the human and divine meet, there is a depth of awareness and reverence for each other. The Anam Cara does not provide an easy way, rescue us, or tell us what we want to hear. The Anam Cara maintains boundaries, holds us accountable, confronts us, and expands our perception. The Anam Cara does not buy into our distortions but patiently waits for us to discover other perspectives, allowing us to find our own path, even at the risk of losing the relationship. Anam Cara invites us to deep, honest reflection and personal responsibility and is there for us while we agonize.

In our lives, we all need an Anam Cara. We need this “Soul Friend” and the awareness that brings healing and wholeness, for it is one of the greatest gift’s of this relationship. Having experienced this Anam Cara love and friendship, we are fundamentally changed. It is as though blind eyes are opened. We see the world differently, understand differently, and respond differently. This transformation changes our awareness and how we are in the world. We find ourselves revitalized and restored. Even more, our relationship with Aman Cara, brings us back to the familiar place from which we began our journey, only to see it, as though for the first time.

Watch for and welcome your Anam Cara, that you too may be a “Soul Friend” to another.

Warm regards,

Wayne Hulon   MDiv. ABCP

The Lesson In Not Knowing

The Lesson In Not Knowing

It has always been interesting to me that patients (or clients) would come in and be in one of three stages:

Stage one was “I know what I want to do, or I need to do.” In this stage they are so certain about their decisions they are simply wanting permission to do what they are going to do anyhow. No matter how you respond, they hear you as confirming their decision. If you call attention to their unguarded remarks that suggest otherwise, they protest that they misspoke or that you didn’t understand their meaning.

Stage two is the negative certainty whereby they say, “I know where this is going and I know why this is falling apart.” “In fact, I knew this was going to happen!’ In this stage they know why others did things or what they really meant when they said whatever was said.

Stage three is “I should have known,” or “Something told me this at the outset but I just didn’t listen.”

Stage four is identified by, “What am I going to do. I don’t know what I’m going to do. Why me? Why this? Why now? Eventually, I just don’t know anything anymore.”    Not so suddenly, they become teachable.

Like so many of you, I went to college not to learn, but rather to show them what I already knew. So, I didn’t learn a lot. In graduate school, and certainly in supervision, I discovered the truth, the “real truth”.

I remember saying to my supervisor, “Bob, I have two hospitals who think I’m a hero, and yet the truth is, I don’t know what in the hell I’m doing.” With more grace than I deserved, he put his arms around me and said, Today your education begins.”

With eighty-five percent of our motivation being unconscious, we still think that we know why we do things. We at least think we ought to know, though the unconscious is like the back of our heads.

It’s been with us all of our life, but we’ve never seen it ” up close and personally.” Well at least not without those relationships (often our spouse), which serve as mirrors. When someone asks most of us “why” we did something or said something,  at our most honest and vulnerable moments, we only have about a fifteen percent chance of being right. It is like when we asks someone who has lost their keys, “Where did you lose them?” If they knew, the keys would not be lost.

Simply said, our beliefs and expectations about “ knowing”  don’t actually serve to make us smart, but instead invite shame when we don’t.

It was one of my great pleasures to be trained by an Atlanta psychiatrist, Ed Usey. I was working with the son of a couple with whom Ed was working. I was permitted to listen to the recording of the parents session. The father said to Ed, “You said do thus and so, and we did and it didn’t work. You said to do this and that, and we did and it didn’t work. Ed why didn’t it work?” Ed said, “Hell I don’t know. I’m not Kennedy. I don’t know everything!” Stunned I stopped the recording and said, “Ed why didn’t you give him the answer? Even I know the answer.” Ed turned to me, looking over his readers and said, “Right, you would have given him the answer! I was trying to teach the lesson!” I paused a moment as if I understood, but finally broke my silence to ask, “Ed, what’s the lesson?” Ed responded, “That it is okay not to know”.

I’m suggesting that it is not only “Okay” to not know, it some instances, is actually preferred. If we can endure our shame and vulnerability (from the erroneous thinking  that we ought to know), we gain wisdom beyond intelligence. It will in fact, be well worth the experience, allowing us to become teachable in that moment.

It takes real courage to admit that you “don’t know”, even when you think you may. If however, healing is about authenticity, integrity, and vulnerability, perhaps, for the sake of the therapeutic relationship, we opt for the courage of our own vulnerability. What if at the risk of looking inadequate, we model a new way of authentic comfort, regard, acceptance and support by trusting that the healing happens in the warmth, safety, and quality of the “with-ness,” and not the bright light of our adequacy?

Perhaps then we would know that all of the biases, presumptions, and certainties to which we cling, were totally intact by the time we were thirty-six months old and that those are the eyes through which we have presumed to see and know.  Thus, our belief system, forged at such an early and misinformed, ill informed, or uninformed age, still blinds, contaminates, and keeps us disconnected until we are willing to see thing differently.

Then, as Shelton Kopp wrote, “Even a stone, can be a teacher”.

Maybe that’s what it is to “open blind eyes”, those being first our own. It might also be that young belief system that not only keeps us from each other, but creates the stress and disillusionment we convert to somatic complaints. Be more suspicious of your “certainties” and more respectful of your “hunches”. Perhaps it is in this vulnerability, that we find peace, safety, and the joy of more curiosity and less judgement.  The quality of your life may depend upon your vulnerability and willingness to see things differently. Paradoxically, as a therapist, you don’t have to be certain, in fact, it’s more courageous, even preferred, to be willing to, “not know”.

Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk

Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk

Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk

Receives the American College of Psychotherapy

2018 Anam Cara Award


There are many who change how others think, but few with the wisdom and courage, to influence the path of an entire professional culture. Such a man is Bessel Van der Kolk.” — The American College of Psychotherapy


In the field of trauma and psychotherapy, you are probably aware of the accomplishments and contributions of, the world-renowned trauma expert, Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk. However, today, I would like to introduce you to the man I’ve come to know, both personally and professionally. Beyond his accomplishments, I would like to introduce you to “the man he is,” for this is who I would want you to know even better.

Few know that Van der Kolk gifts and wisdom, specific to the healing of trauma, were born out of his own wounding and grounded in a history of difficult experiences. Despite his statue in trauma treatment, psychiatry, and psychotherapy, his willingness to demonstrate vulnerability, authenticity, and share personal insight, has been nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Born in 1943, in The Hague, during the German occupation of the Netherlands, he was exposed to trauma as a child. As a child he had to endure the great Dutch famine as well as the ravages of World War II. His father had been a prisoner in a Nazi work camp and he lived surrounded by Holocaust survivors daily. He describes his mother as cold, withdrawn, and unhappy while his father, prone to rage, frequently abused him. On his own by his teen years, he wandered to France and, having stayed in a monastery, considered becoming a monk.

In the 1960’s Van der Kolk relocated to the United States to pursue his education and eventually became a Harvard trained Psychiatrist. By the 1970” while working with VietNam Veterans related to posttraumatic stress disorder his interest and research intensified. In the 1990’s he became a proponent of repressed-memory therapy for which he came under heavy fire and controversy.

Through the early 2000’s he was a lecturer, teacher, and professor while serving as President of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies and co-director of the National Child Tramatic Stress and Complex Trauma Network. He currently is the Medical Director of the Trauma Center, Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University Medical School and has a private practice in Boston.

Known for being opinionated and outspoken, Van der Kolk is not a stranger to controversy. Bessel recently left a non-profit trauma center which he founded and served and has begun yet another non-profit trauma center in Boston. Amid such controversy, I have observed him in very difficult situations and witnessed his composure and demeanor to consistently be one of patience and compassion.

With over one hundred and fifty articles on trauma and three highly regarded books, he has traveled around the globe tirelessly, teaching and training thousands of providers about the healing of trauma. His most recent book, The Body Keeps the Score, been acclaimed as “ground breaking” for it’s insight, clarity, and the integration of psychophysiology, psychology, and neuroscience. As psychotherapist, I can attest to the fact that we all are richer for his contribution to our field. The wisdom and insight Bessel has brought to the art and science of healing trauma has, undeniably, changed the way clinicians will practice for years to come.

On behalf of the American College of Psychotherapy, it is my privilege and honor, to present the 2018 Anam Cara Award to Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk.


Wayne Hulon

Executive Director
The American College of Psychotherapy