Readjusting

It’s nowhere near the end of the summer but already I’ve begun to notice my awareness of the progression of the year towards the shorter days. ‘Oh no’, you say, we’ve not even had our summer staycation yet ! Of course, there’s no real evidence of that seasonal change as yet, (it’s still light here till very late in the evening), but my internal alert to the often joked Scottish phrase “the nights are fair drawing in” began just after the summer solstice and wasn’t a welcome guest. Contrary to my belief that I should enjoy the present moment, I’ve caught a whiff of the darkening days gloom as we pass the mid-year mark.

The challenges of readjustment to changing external contexts often features in a client session. Change …..whether desired, resented, manufactured, unexpected, progressive , dramatic, foreseen, tragic, longed-for, feared, demanded….. and the characteristics list goes on, is rarely just ‘simple change’. So often, the readjustment required of us seems inconvenient, distressing or costly. It brings with it the spectres of self-doubt, anticipation of disaster and lost enthusiasm for the new.

Of course, there are the occasions of readjustment emerging from joyful, successful, sought-after or surprisingly welcome change …. but these don’t feature too much in the narratives of therapy. The sometimes useful question of ‘ so has anything changed for the better ?’ is more often met with incredulous silence or an exasperated sigh, than an eager recitation of shifts, readjustments made and movement forward achieved.

In Transactional Analysis, readjustments to implicit beliefs and the ways we play these out and respond to them in our relationships is a central aspect of the therapeutic process. ‘Script’, built and maintained over the years, is formed of the self’s core narratives, and much attention will likely be paid to eliciting these, and through the therapy confronting, re-evaluating, and revising the hold these may have on the client. Hopefully, the process of discovery and co-created understanding leads to the client getting greater insight and energy for the changes they wish to bring about or the awareness they wish to implement in their life.

None of this is necessarily as straight-forward as that last line implies ! The process of radical change to our self-perception, with knock on repercussions in many aspects of our internal life and external relations, can be profoundly threatening, destabilising, and strongly defended against by the door-keepers of our regulating psyche. ‘Script’ can keep us seemingly ‘safe’ … but it is often safety at a price.

I recall one situation, some years back, where an acquaintance was so shaken-up by the potential revision of his Script belief that he had ‘to obey at all costs those in authority over him’, that he chose instead to retire early rather than live and work in a job situation that caused him such internal conflict. The ‘erroneous’ Script belief was so powerful that although it had been brought into conscious thought and its validity reviewed, nevertheless it’s powerful influence remained. The readjustment to a life where his response to authority could be conditional ( on reasonableness and a modified mutual respect), was not conceivable. I was surprised, probably disappointed that he chose what felt to me like a ‘passive response’, and it was only much later that I came to understand the cost of readjustment for him was simply too much of a threat to his settled sense of self.

Time and circumstance inevitably change us and our sense of who we are. A lot of that self has been constructed through the ongoing validation and recognition of others, as well as the internal processes of self-discovery and confirmation over time, and through our responses to life’s demands. Acceptance of the given-ness of change, the acknowledgement that we are no longer as self-assured as we once were, or as ‘strong’, ‘beautiful’, ‘able’, ‘right’….. as we thought we were, can be a profoundly unsettling experience. Our task of readjustment may be fought against, as we struggle to find that self-compassion, gentle kindness and a new curiosity for the ‘self’ that has to come and, with a bit of luck, will be welcomed.

‘Free me up’ Scottie

It’s not unusual for me to ask a client in the first session what they would like to achieve, or what the benefit is that they expect or imagine that they would get from working with me . Not an unreasonable thing to do, and I imagine most clients , or certainly those with any previous experience of counselling/therapy, would expect it. Contracting, as the books calls it, is often seen as a prerequisite of a clear and mutually protective process. In other words , we both know, or think we know what we’re getting into. And therein lies the rub !

How many times , you might ask me , have I started off with that text book approach ? ( Many is the short answer.) Often that works well and we continue, week by week, session by session, unpacking the layers of experience, internal and external conversations, until some sort of conclusion is reached that sees the client more or less satisfied that an ending has been reached. And that is fine.

But how many times have I sat thinking ‘ that’s clear ‘ (contract accepted), started into the work together, to find myself several sessions in thinking ‘ how in heaven’s name did we get here ?’ Did I completely miss something in the shift from that explicit , disarmingly transparent starting point , to this muddy clunky space where we appear to be staggering down a very different road. How do I begin to make sense of that and still provide the safe framework of a mutually understood exploration?

photo by soulsana at Unsplash

The ‘journey is the work’ is one way that I’ve learned to loosen the grip of the ‘ hard contract ‘, and trust the process of Adult to Adult engagement , checking in regularly with the client and using all our faculties to gauge that we are still travelling usefully, safely and purposefully. Of course, some see this as meandering, the enemy according to a certain orthodoxy common amongst some therapists, but like many firmly held dogmas other realities are often exposed in the ‘doing’ of the new thing.

It has been my experience in therapy, as well as being a therapist, that not only might we discover the unexpected in wandering off piste but we may find an entirely new, vibrant and risky way of travelling . Being freed from the restrictions of self-expectation, scripted views of oneself and others, is an unfamiliar way of journeying for many of us but therapy at it’s best offers a safe, boundaried and exciting mode of adventure for the self.

Rage

The rush of air that assails as you step off the plane in a tropical country. Expected, at least partially, known and yet new each time. At times recognised; an old friend and welcomed in, her scent immediately visceral. Connections to self and other, not all retained, some in shadow form.

“Come Rage, meet me, what have you brought to this place and time ?”

If I dare admit, far less embrace, the surface heat that holds safe the terror and fear, how much will you and I endure ? How often still has your presence warned me off, denying again the longed-for burning clarity we seek.

Which child in me will willingly play at your side?

Waiting …

 

” I can’t wait, I need it now . Don’t ask me to wait. ” 

But what are you waiting for ?

” How would I know ?”

And I heard, ” the axe is laid to the root of the tree”.

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Just a few choice words..

close up photography of a cellphone

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Pexels.com

” I don’t see how that’s any business of yours !”… went the very memorable line from the inimitable RuPaul on a recent Graham Norton show.

Now, I don’t imagine there’s too many therapists quoting in sessions this doyenne of  put downs ! But there I was thinking exactly that this was the phrase my client ‘ should ‘ employ in a repeated confrontation that distressed him. If not RuPaul, maybe channeling the Dowager Countess of Grantham would work – with her classy one-liners !

Of course, some of us can find permission giving to oneself to ‘ confront’ so very difficult. It’s  just ‘not me’, is the frequent response. Or ‘ How could I?’, ‘What would people think?’, ‘Oh never in a month of Sundays!’

The mere suggestion of doing something ‘ out of character’ can be freeing , allowing the consideration of change , an exploration of options, and even if they remain for the time-being in the realm of possibility, the seed of change has been sown.

Counselling, at least as I understand my role, can at times encourage the propagation of new experiences of the self. In an authentic, transparent and sometimes challenging way, the therapist introduces opportunities to uncover, discover or recover , aspects of the self that may have been lost, disavowed or never experienced. The ‘ activity’ of the therapist isn’t about leading the client into some uncharted territory where ‘change’ is guaranteed or required, but it is about holding the process of transformation as open and available, if desired. That I will be a companion in that is offered in the full knowledge that at some point we will part company and you may go it alone or find others to accompany you.

Change, and especially ‘personal change’  often involves loss, giving up or giving away something that we have held on to – for good or ill. The reality is that we can often choose to cling to the familiar and ‘ comfortable ‘ while so wanting things to be otherwise. Loss of ‘ face’, fear of disapproval can be such powerful anchors holding us back. Focusing on the past, or getting caught up in our heads about what others may think about us, leads to the traps of ‘optionless’ thinking, negativity and ‘stuckness’. And as I imagine RuPaul might say to those who would hold us back from fulfillment and our ‘better self’, just ‘Sashay away ‘!

 

Transitions

img00223-20120921-1912I attended a conference recently, the theme of which ,’Transitions’, evoked a rich mish-mash of thoughts and musings over the last few weeks – seasonal , no doubt ,as the old year ended and the new one began.

No.1 : Transitions are often experienced with fear as well as anticipation. Right in the midst of our Child ego state excitement, a voice warns us “Be careful, watch out “, and we shrink into our armoured place, observant and cautious.

No.2 : Transitions encourage forgetting. Losing track of the journey, focusing on the to-be-arrived-at. But can we arrive “knowingly” without the accompaniment of the past?

No.3: Transitions may be entirely unsought but earnestly longed for; subconsciously denied to self and others. Constancy, pre-eminent of the Stoic’s virtues, elevated.

No.4: Transitions may take us back, bizarelly to old thoughts, to patterns, or ways of being that we thought we had left behind. We struggle to integrate some of the old with the new, as it stubbornly reveals itself.

No.5: Who and what will we allow into our process as we grapple with the meanings of the old and the new, the ‘well-kent’  and the threatening exciting future.

Welcoming uncertainty? Welcoming risk ? Welcoming Disapproval ? Welcoming Joy ? Welcoming Surprise ?

THESE THREE THINGS

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Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

Dreaming ‘words’, as opposed to images, isn’t usual for me….at least as far as I have been aware. But this week has been different. I’ve been on holiday and strangely it has released some element of my subconscious self that quite simply has seen words tumbling into my ‘awareness’ as I slept .. and remaining with me as I awakened.

Faith, hope, love.

These three words …. familiar to me for very many years, returned last night, and punctuated my waking hours. Paul’s famous words are of course  loaded with meaning, layer upon layer. They have been expounded by preachers and theologians for centuries, and every day are repeated in weddings, funerals and baptisms across the christian world. They have been appropriated by many as a simple summary of their religious position.

So, what meaning do these three gifted words have for me today, I wonder ?  I know these are traditionally understood as personal ‘virtues’ or character traits – to be aspired to, striven for spiritually and morally. Encouraging oneself to be ‘better’ than one has been to date is laudable I’m sure, and holding to these virtues may be a way into that.

I remember that in my professional life as a counselling therapist, I often hear from clients of their desire for change that focuses on being ‘ more’ … More accepting, more forgiving, more active, more engaged, and so on.

So, what will being more faithful, more hopeful, more loving mean? What will it require of me at a personal level, what changes can I bring about in my life to better embody these virtues.. and (as I often ask of clients looking to change) .. How will I know when that happens ?

I’m pretty sure that these three things have something to also say to me about the ‘practice of therapy’ and my work with individuals and couples. I’m curious about the existential  challenges of embodying being ‘ faithful, hopeful and loving’ in the context of the therapeutic relationship. A subtle shift of language to ‘being believed (having faith in), being offered hope and being unconditionally accepted’ are, of course, more familiar in the therapeutic milieu.

Then I recall too that there is an inbuilt challenge in the hierarchy of these three virtues ..  not only that “these things last forever” but that “the greatest of these is love“.

I am going to take these as both an encouragement and a warning.

Wisdom

magazine-unlock-01-2-3-983-_8e8bbdbaf5fc4e25be643a921919f101The final wisdom of life requires not the annulment of incongruity but the achievement of serenity within and above it.    (Reinhold Niebuhr)

Oh, so that’s it ! …..As I read the words, their simplicity challenged and disturbed me. It was if this short sentence offered an outcome to the painful trajectory of puzzled teenage years, the answer to the angst-filled middle years of ‘shoulds’ and ‘ought not to haves’, and the twilight wonderings of ‘what now’ in the painful realisation of what has been…. has been.

Like many people I see, I too would like to find a route into being comfortable with this neat summing up of ‘the final wisdom of life’. Admittedly much of the ‘ wisdom’ of this age, ‘mindfulness practice’ in its many guises, posits this to be the case too.

‘Being in the moment’ , focusing on the present reality in a non-judgemental self acceptance has an awful lot going for it… physically, emotionally, spiritually. The answer my friend is blowing in the wind, sang the poet of acceptance. And the wind ‘blows where it wishes’, is the wisdom of a prophet whose peace passes all understanding.

 

Puzzled ( and not happy )

Puzzled

I’d love to say it’s just lies, damned lies etc… but that seems all too easy a get-out. Sure, we all get inundated with data, fake and otherwise, but I am troubled by a recent headline. The 10th Prince’s Trust youth index reports that our young peoples confidence is declining in relation to key areas such as health and future prospects. Their overall happiness score was 69 out of 100, the first time it has dropped below 70.

pexels-photo-262187.jpegThe sad fact is that many of our young people are more anxious, less happy and suffering with mental and well-being issues; they are less happy in their own skins, and feel more disconnected from their communities and society as a whole. And if we look at the stats again , we know that by the age of 14 around 12 per cent of boys and 18 per cent of girls will have a mental health problem. Meanwhile CAMHS are overwhelmed with referrals and community run counselling services are at the sharp-end of funding cuts and reduced service provision. Not a happy picture.

So, I am puzzled, as well as dismayed.

What will it take for us to truly value our young peoples needs and respond to them with vigour, compassion and determination ?  It was, I think, Gandhi who said

” The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”.

That phrase has been applied deservedly to many groups – prisoners, refugees, mentally ill, homeless….But society needs to recognise that the well-being of our children and young people is the sine qua non of a healthy community .Our hopes and aspirations rest on their small, undeveloped and unsupported shoulders.

Puzzled ? Answers on a postcard .

Five common therapy issues in January

Hard to imagine that this month, January, has almost gone.

There is nojanus1 other period that delivers more in terms of the impetus to be ‘dealing with stuff’ in therapy. In my experience, it kicks in around week 2 of the new year – the highs of new year and festivity have receded and there … yes, there they are … them , that , this S *!T.. that needs to be ‘ dealt with ‘, ‘ faced up to’ and ‘ kicked into touch ‘.

So … here, and suitably disguised from any actual words I’ve heard, are the 5 therapy issues that I’ve encountered most commonly in January:

 

  1. Leaving behind a personal behaviour that no longer satisfies or works
  2. Facing a choice to remain or withdraw ( from a person, people, jobs, places)
  3. Going deeper into self and awareness
  4. Facing the need to be really heard
  5. Confronting deception and seeking a new authenticity

I admire the human capacity for growth and change. Soon it will be Spring.