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 ?




Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on

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.


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 )


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.


Oh Tidings of comfort….or anything else you need!

There is a lot of it about….the Taxi driver remarked. The ” it” was Christmas “spirit”… as he went on to describe an explosion of apparent bonhomie coupled with nervous exhaustion and anxious anticipation. It was, of course, the party season of all the party seasons. His good humour was being tested he said..too many over indulgences with the consequence of spilled drinks and worse in the back of his usually pristine vehicle. Agh…how he enjoyed recounting the numerous drink fuelled high-octane arguments between couples he’d heard in the last week ,how many tearful recriminations he’d overheard.

And ” don’t start me on all the rubbish folk buy..piling in with their bags and moaning about how it’s all too much.” Oh, ok.

And in the background I hear the radio presenter cheerfully declare “it’s a time for the children “. Oh, really.

I find it all too easy to be cynical, and jump on the anti-Christmas train of critical disengagement. The ‘holiday season’ as it’s come to be called isn’t much of a break for many ..let alone a ‘ holy -day’ season. I too bow to the pressure of the hurried acquisition of material goods to bestow on others, I reluctantly acquiesce to the unusually frequent demands for sociability, and sink into the tinsel faded familiarity of past routines of ‘doing Christmas’.

Like the taxi driver, I’ve witnessed the personal anxiety and heard the accounts of how Christmas provokes discomfort and distress. How family , their presence and their absence, can create massive conflicted emotions. How the desire to belong clashes with the need to be independent. How the desire for faith in humanity ( and beyond) is destroyed by cruelty and pain.

In the confusion of contrary emotions, the turmoil of our thoughts and the paralysis of our self, I encourage the emergence of permission …giving to oneself the awareness and vital energy that is essentially ours to claim. It’s the OK-ness that we seek and are. It’s the embodied OK-ness that is at the heart of the Christmas narrative. It is the existential reality of the ‘word’ becoming ‘flesh’. A radical narrative and a radical gift we can give to ourselves and each other.

Happy Christmas.

Blood is thicker than……

It’s always disconcerting when I find myself chewing over a phrase two days later that someone has, even casually, ( oh, is that ever the case, I hear some say), dropped into the dialogue. Mmmmm…. and then more mmmmm…. till ponder, ponder… clunk.

Foggy_pathA slowly dawning realisation that I’m struggling to make sense of it .. no, I mean to make MY sense of this commonplace. Oh.. sure, I know what it usually signifies … that ‘family ‘ bonds us tighter than other ties ( DISCUSS) , though apparently it’s roots lie in the phrase that  “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb”… which of course implies the opposite of this. Confused …

In TA, we often talk quite mystically about ‘ script ‘ – and how it operates at a personal, family, cultural level –  (with the basic idea of of “life script” originally being a very early and pre-conscious life plan that influences the way we live our lives). Therapy , in this schema, is often directed to ‘ changing the script’ and some boldly address themselves to the ‘script cure’. (memo to self – ‘psychotherapy ‘ can be translated as “the cure of souls.”)

Now and again, and after years of therapy, I bump up against my ‘ script’ in a way that is profoundly unsettling, and this is definitely one of those occasions. Why ?

Well, for a start, I just don’t get the idea of this universal statement “blood is thicker than…”, in a world that I observe as being so truly diverse in  the realm of human experience. That’s a fairly safe and detached position to rest on. Phew.

Then at a second level, there’s what I experience as I sit with others:  hearing their experience of longing to be more or less “attached” to their family of origin; the variations are limitless. And being in this privileged position, I guess I often hear more from those who are seeking to experience the reality of  the strength of the ‘blood tie’, when it’s not there, than I do from those who want rid of it.

And way down, there’s the place where it touches me. The place where my inner voice has struggled to speak at all… never mind the telling of it out loud that ” Blood is thicker than water ….that’s not my truth.”  A place that has evoked at times sadness, regret, anger and maybe moving now towards ‘ resolution’.

The treasures of which we speak


The early days of my teenage years were when I first attended a local youth group at the church in our neighbourhood. The minister was what I probably now would call a radical Christian socialist – a humble, godly, deeply spiritual man with compassion and understanding that went deep and learning that stretched far. He was inspiring and other-worldly…awesome, they say today. He had served abroad in a developing country and was appalled at the waste and excess in our society when he returned here  – so much so that he gave back a large part of his already meagre stipend. He lived frugally; his wife and children were equally part of a passionate mission to educate, inform, and inspire a simplicity of living inspired by their faith.

Connecting with this man and his family was a pivotal moment for me. I didn’t know it, of course at the time, but I saw and experienced for the first time what it could mean to live a principled life.

He spoke with great care and quiet potency. His words were incarnational.

He became a soul guide and in time introduced me to others like him and his family. He was the first truly wise guide whom I encountered and his voice became a companion on my inner dialogue of exploration and self discovery.

But over the years the link lessened and his presence and guidance were replaced by others and eventually by my experience of different accompaniers in the persons of my therapists. They became my guides and fellow explorers in a new way and enterprise. The journey was now even more of an inner exploration, a true searching of the soul, and heart, and yes of mind too. The mere presence of the other – the therapeutic presence – replaced or augmented the modelling that I think had been so influential in my early years.

I like to think that I travel cautiously now in my work as a therapist, conscious of the immense privilege I have in sharing the tender and personal journeys of others, and mindful of the potential power of my voice in their inner world.


Holding it together

via Daily Prompt: Zip

Just ‘ bumping along’ or  ” chavving awa’ “”  ( Aberdonian phrase of my youth, and a step up from “it’s a sair fecht” ), came to mind  as I answered a ‘ HOW are YOU? ‘ enquiry from an out-of-touch-for-too-long acquaintance. My response was at once an attempt to say ‘enough’ and of course to say little in real terms about HOW I was. Existential deflection of the well-practiced kind. Ten out of ten.  TZIPhe questioner had caught me at a time when my internal locus of control ( yes , really )  was performing under-par and I had given into the perception, weirdly, that I was just ‘ doing away’ when I was ACTUALLY pretty damn storming along .

But not allowing myself to say it, own it as we therapists love to call it , feel it, and certainly not to proclaim it in response to this douce enquiry.  The internal Critical Parent (TA ) voice was rather content that the zip was firmly closed on that option.

So often I have the same conversation, in different guises, with clients…  the need to find our ok-ness with letting the ‘other ‘ in , with the revelation of our struggles or triumphs, our anticipation of being rejected and our advance need to hold back. How much, how often we deny ourselves the ‘ gifts of others to us’.

And we say we are ‘stuck’…. like that zip… which has something to do with keeping stuff in , and other stuff out.

Oversight and sound

“You don’t know … you think you do,  and I know you don’t.”

Lame excuse.

“Never cared .. enough.”wp-1473372752388.jpg

Always one step-ahead of me.

“Too little, too late and too damn bad… to care.”

I didn’t imagine that.


via Daily Prompt: Oversight