Part one of this blog was simply some autobiography about my cycling career. In this second part I want to think about some of the crashes my patients have had and survived. When my patient implied that I was either mad or brave to continue cycling, it struck me that coming into therapy is much the same. One is seen as either mad or brave. In reality one is neither. At best there is a curiosity about being me. At worst we have therapy because our life is unravelling and we must do something to stop it. Sometimes, of course, the process of therapy feels cruel. One of my patients came to me from another therapist. They wanted a “top up”. (The therapeutic equivalent of proof reading their work?) It quickly became apparent that this patient had many more issues than had come to light in their previous therapy. Our initial sessions were hard on my patient. The story that they thought fitted their life no longer worked. We explored many areas that had not previously been examined. One consequence of this was that they had to rethink who they were. There have been times when we both wondered if I was being cruel or kind. Should I have left them with the story they had constructed? (My patient’s answer was “No. I want a real story. One that is honest.”) This is where courage is shown. Riding my bike after a crash is not a very big deal. Being willing to trust one’s therapist enough to do the work is a big deal.
I remember another patient who had come out of the Army after 20 years. He found civilian life dull and wanted to go into close protection work. His wife was deeply unhappy about this and their marriage was suffering. We had an initial session where I pointed out that he had both a wife and a mistress- the mistress being the Army. I suggested that he now had to make a choice. He disagreed strongly. He came back the next week saying he had talked things through with his wife who agreed with me. He went on to tell me that he had applied for a civilian job at the local Army camp and was no longer going to do his close protection work. The two sessions were enough. This took a huge amount of courage. Having spent 20 years and more in the Army, to leave it behind was an act of bravery comparable to that which he had shown in the field.
Others are less able or willing to show that kind of courage. I remember one of my patents who had had a succession of marriages and had had affairs throughout. He came wanting to think about his current relationship with a woman who was the love of his life. I asked if he was able to be faithful to her. A very long silence ensued. “No.” he said. “I have not been faithful to her.” I tried to explore why this was the case but he did not want to think about this. He left after that session and did not return. (Men, in particular, show an odd correlation between success in business and success in their emotional life. I have met a number of very successful business men who have done very well in their field. They have expensive houses, wear well cut suits, have expensive toys etc. but their inner world is empty.)
I suppose that getting back on my bike and riding it took some courage. But coming week after week to see one’s therapist takes another kind of courage. I’ve written before about my poor map reading skills and my capacity for getting lost. (As I get older I panic more easily. As a young man in my 20′s I drove anywhere quite happily. If I got lost, so be it. I’d ask the way. These days I need more certainty.) I do not want to sound like some Thought for the Day speaker who draws parallels between buying a new car and being Saved. But the metaphor of journeying- riding, taking risks, exploring, falling off and so on-is a good one for the therapeutic journey.