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THERAPIST BELIEVES PAIN CAN OPEN DOORS TO WHOLENESS

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When bad things happen to some people, those people begin to see themselves as victims. They blame others and pity themselves. They find little value in their pain.

We've all seen, too, examples of other people who've learned from their painful experiences and who use what they've learned to help themselves and others. Jerry Ruhl, 42, a Denver psychotherapist and consultant, is one of these people.He's not an armchair philosopher when it comes to offering suggestions for dealing with pain. He had polio at 18 months and spent much of his childhood in and out of hospitals.

He believes his own illness has taught him lessons that have formed the basis of his personal philosophy.

He learned, for example, that it's impossible to insulate ourselves from tragedies. He calls tragedies "mysteries" because "they upset our plans and humble us. And while we would never ask for them, they can be opportunities - opportunities to quiet our egos so we can begin to learn what we must do to grow."

When he works with clients, many of whom are trying to make sense of painful events like illnesses, accidents and death, he is sympathetic to those who need time to grieve for what they've lost. But he also encourages them to ask, "Where is this taking me?" He believes these experiences are often doorways to greater personal wholeness.

And he uses his own story to explain what he means. "My own healing was not only physical, it also gave me understanding, a greater compassion for and a deeper experience of life."

He's coined a term that encompasses his beliefs about his illness; he calls it "stepping into his limp." It's his way of saying "Yes" to his illness and his fate.

He likes to use Humphrey Bogart's role in "The African Queen" as a metaphor for life. As captain of his boat, Bogie spent his days navigating through the dangers of the jungle - snakes, rapids, whatever could cause his boat to capsize. He attempted to control events.

But his real learning took place in what he couldn't control. These unexpected challenges, like those that came with his schoolmarm passenger, taught him valuable lessons.

Ruhl likes to use this story to encourage his clients to face their problems and learn from them. If their problem is an illness, he, of course, encourages them to get the best medical care available. But he also believes that healing is possible even when a cure is not.

"When we realize we can't control our cure, we have an opportunity to re-evaluate what is important in our lives."

He helps his clients concentrate their efforts on healing, not only physically and emotionally, but also spiritually. He defines spirit or soul as a connection with something bigger than our egos. He believes that since we are individuals, we can find that connection in different ways. We may find it through our connection with our families or communities. Or we may find it in our connection with nature or God.