Suppose there is an intervention focusing on sorrow. Depression is an attitude or emotion that resides in a self; loss is an event that happens in the world. Sorrow is positioned somewhere in between depression and loss, between the self and the world. Sorrow is a personal response to loss, but sorrow is also what makes loss personal. I don’t think I’m cutting things too finely here. I’m looking for words that haven’t already been claimed by psychotherapy.
Depression is a formal diagnostic category; a syndrome, or cluster of interrelated symptoms; a disorder. Questionnaires have been devised for evaluating whether someone is clinically depressed and how severe that depression is. Medications have been designed to enhance the synaptic responsiveness of depressives’ brains by increasing the neurotransmitter uptake rate. Various psychotherapeutic techniques are used in the treatment of depression.
Loss is a life event that can trigger the onset of various undesirable emotional responses: anxiety, mourning, insecure attachment, anomie, anger, depression. People who have experienced a loss can be treated preventively, helping them work through the usual emotional sequlae until they re-establish a post-loss equilibrium: grieving programs, programs for children whose parents are going through a divorce, programs for employees who are “let go.” The life histories of people who are experiencing anxiety, anger and depression can be evaluated to identify whether loss may be at the root of the problem. Sometimes loss can only be inferred: something in childhood that has itself been lost to memory. Lacanian analysts trace psychiatric disorder to a primal loss of plenitude, a loss that never happened in reality.
Sorrow hasn’t been claimed by psychotherapy. It’s an emotionally charged and profound word, associated more with religion and poetry than with diagnosis and treatment. The word isn’t heard in everyday conversation. People who say they’re sorry are usually referring to minor violations of politesse rather than deep regret or guilt; people rarely say they’re sorrowful. Sorrow is a noun, like depression and loss, which might reify it as a thing. Sorrow is an oppressively painful atmosphere or force field that permeates everything, welling up from a gash that’s been ripped in the heart, flowing out from a gash that’s been ripped in the world. Sorrow is something so painful we’re reluctant to let ourselves be vulnerable to it ever happening to us. Sorrow has been exiled from our culture and our discourse.
Sorrow doesn’t prescribe how it’s supposed to be understood, or experienced, or treated, or cured. There is no database, no drug, no ten-step program. No a priori tacit agreement is established between therapist and client as to roles, procedures, self-definitions. It’s time: the terms “therapist” and “client” really do have to be banished now. The intervention moves to a loge in the deserted theater or a bench in the garden. Neither outside nor inside, sorrow is the medium in which the intervention is immersed, binding together participants, words, gestures. Filaments of sorrow stretch across space and time, knitting a gauzy fabric strong enough to suspend us all above the abyss.