One's ability to
love is set free when that person sees himself or herself as good, worthwhile, and
lovable. According to Christian psychiatrists Dr. Conrad W. Baars and
A. Terruwe, this process is called “affirmation,” and it occurs when one person
is the source of unconditional love and emotional strengthening for another
person. From the perspective of Christian awareness, this capacity to love is
essential in order to live out the commandment of Jesus to “love one another”
(John 13:34, 15:12).1
According to Dr. Baars and Dr. Terruwe, a person is unaffirmed when he or she has been deprived of authentic affirmation. He or she may have been criticized, ignored, neglected, abused, or emotionally rejected by primary caregivers early in life, resulting in the individual's stunted emotional growth. Because affirmation of one's being is an essential developmental need, unaffirmed individuals are incapable of developing into emotionally mature adults without first receiving authentic affirmation from another person. Maturity is reached when there is a harmonious relationship between a person’s body, mind, emotions, and spiritual soul under the guidance of their reason and will.
Affirmation therapy involves the therapist’s affective, not effective, presence
with a client—in other words, it is a way of “being” with a person as opposed to
“doing” something for him or her. Affirmation therapy can be formally described
as a way of being affectively present to another human person in a therapeutic
relationship in which the therapist reveals to the client his or her intrinsic
goodness and worth. Affirmation is a profound way of being with someone that
should not be mistaken for a set of simplistic techniques such as giving a pat
on the back or a superficial or shallow compliment. Any actions or interventions on the part of
the therapist are secondary to the therapist’s affective presence and are only
healing in the context of the loving and nurturing environment created by the
The authentic care, concern, and love for the client by the therapist is communicated on an emotional level through the therapist's eyes, facial expression, countenance and other nonverbal communication, as well as gentle words of acceptance and encouragement emanating naturally from the therapist’s heart. This affective presence allows the client to feel loved and worthwhile instead of simply trying to believe it with his or her intellect based on the words of the therapist. As the client accepts or receives affirmation from the therapist, emotional growth occurs naturally and is allowed to unfold at the client’s pace. This emotional growth is comparable to the growth and development of a child as it receives the nurturing love of a parent.
In affirmation therapy, the therapist’s role can be likened to that of a parent—nurturing, loving, understanding, giving example, teaching moral truths according to the capacity and belief system of the client, and seeing to the individual’s intellectual, emotional, and spiritual needs.
relationship involves a mutual sharing of the client’s life experiences,
emotions, fears and anxieties, as well as an exploration of past and present as
it relates to the symptomatology of the client. Most importantly, the therapist
reveals the goodness of the client to the client through his or her gentle
affective presence, which allows for the client's emotional, intellectual and
spiritual growth and allows the client's symptoms to be outgrown and gradually
Even though there are no “techniques” to learn in affirmation therapy, various strategies are used by the therapist:
• Early relationships between the client and his or her parents and significant others are explored as necessary in order to understand the extent of affirmation that the client has received and any other factors that may affect healing.
• The therapist teaches the client about the emotional life, especially about the importance of accepting all of one’s emotions as good and necessary to psychological wholeness.
• The therapist gently guides the client’s emotional growth in a way that fosters a mature understanding of the emotional life and allows for an increased awareness and healthy integration of feelings and emotions.
• The therapist pays close attention to the areas in which the client feels badly about himself or herself, inferior to others, distressed or discouraged, and gently teaches the client the fallacy of any erroneous or irrational beliefs without criticism or reprimand, disapproval or rejection.
• If it is determined that a repressive disorder such as an anxiety disorder, sexual repression, scrupulosity or obsessive-compulsive repression is part of the client's condition, we refer the therapist to the in-depth discussion and guidelines in Psychic [Psychological] Wholeness and Healing for proper therapy of these repressive disorders, including mortification therapy of sexual obsessions and compulsions.2 See also Feeling & Healing Your Emotions for an extensive discussion of the healthy emotional life.3
The information in these books shows that there is hope for healing these very difficult disorders through an understanding of the emotional life based in the Christian anthropology of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Further information for therapists.
1. Baars, Conrad W. and Anna A. Terruwe. Healing the Unaffirmed, Rev. ed. Suzanne M. Baars and Bonnie N. Shayne (eds.). Staten Island, NY: ST PAULS/Alba House, 2002. pp. 2-3. Back to text
2. Terruwe, Anna A. & Conrad W. Baars. Psychic Wholeness and Healing. Staten Island, NY: Alba House 1981, p. 33. Back to text
3. Baars, Conrad W. Feeling & Healing Your Emotions. Rev. ed. Suzanne M. Baars and Bonnie N. Shayne (eds.). Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1979. Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos, 2003. Back to text
Copyright © 2001 Suzanne M. Baars and Bonnie N. Shayne All