Counselling, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, The Inner World, The unconscious, Uncategorized, Ways of Being


A post on Facebook recently piqued my interest in Batman. I’ve always preferred Batman to any of the other Superheroes on the grounds that he is human and has the most interesting enemies! It would make a fascinating piece to look at his enemies and muse about what parts of himself they might represent. So Catwoman might represent his struggle with the feminine aspects of himself. The Joker his struggle with his own anarchic elements. And so on. Which does connect with  the aim of this blog, which is to look at the hidden parts of Batman.

The origins of Batman are fascinating. He was created by Bob Kane and  Milton “Bill”  Finger in 1939. Kane was born Robert Kahn and was of Jewish descent and subsequently changed his name to Kane, presumably linked to his wish to protect his Jewish identity. His collaborator, Milton Finger, was not initially acknowledged as a co-creator of Batman although this was eventually corrected. I was intrigued by this small piece of information.  The identities of Batman’s creators is about hidden-ness. Kane wants to hide something about himself and Finger is lost for a number of years. We might wonder how much of this is played out in Batman’s life as he continually struggles to reconcile his two identities as Batman and Bruce Wayne. Then we also have the fact that Batman is born out of loss and absence. Bruce Wayne’s parents are murdered and from this trauma Batman is born.

In my clinical work, very many of my patients have forged an identity out of loss. Most often the loss of a parent or parents. This loss is by no means only about physical loss in death. Frequently it is the experience of a parent or parents who were absent emotionally or who failed to connect with an important part of their child’s emotional development. It is one of those ironies that many of us in the “caring professions” choose this work to recompense for an experience of lack in our own early lives. The fantasy runs that if I can make this person better, I can also help myself. This is fine as long as our patients play by the rules and get better. Problems arise when they do not get better despite our best attempts. Hell hath no fury like a carer scorned!  (A point I made continuously to my student nurses when I was lecturing. Some of  them may have heard me!) Our Superheroes have no purpose to their lives if their interventions are not wanted. Hard to picture Superman sitting quietly playing Sudoku. Or Catwoman quietly knitting clothes for her grandchildren.

The other theme I want to touch on here is that of Masks, much loved by many of the Superheroes. The etymology of “mask” carries at least two seemingly conflicting ideas. One is the idea of something sinister, nightmarish or ghostly. A spectre. The other sense is that of buffoon or mockery. Epitomised by the Jester or Fool in the medieval court and viewed as an archetypal figure by Jung in the person of the Trickster. Each of these personae are present in Batman and his kin. They break all the rules with impunity but in the name of Justice. They make choices that make sense only to them.  ( I remember when Dungeons and Dragons first came out as a “board game” it included the character alignments of Chaotic Good and Chaotic Evil. I thought this a fascinating choice and often wondered which personality type was the more dangerous.) To go back to the notion of spurned carers / Heroes etc, this duality is what hides behind the mask. We can begin to imagine the mix of feelings that drives a child whose parents are murdered. Guilt, Fear, Rage, Revenge, Shame, Misery, Loneliness. The list is long and potent. Without Batman, Bruce Wayne may well not have been able to survive. In his novel “The Secret Speech” the author, Tom Rob Smith describes a character in this way. He was “… a man who couldn’t pass judgement without passing judgement on himself.” That would make a good epitaph for Batman.





Counselling, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Uncategorized, Ways of Being


One of my patients recently said that one of the things that I did in our work was that I bought into the front of her vision those things that were just on the periphery of her sight. As a child I used to lie on my bed and try and see what was at the edges of my vision. I strained to see what I knew was there but couldn’t see. Perhaps that’s why I became a counsellor. I spend a lot of my time looking at things that aren’t there. As Freud put it, the purpose of psychoanalysis is to make conscious the unconscious.

Simon Feuerman, an American psychoanalyst, recently wrote about God. Or, specifically, a patient’s thoughts about God:

“I went to the cemetery to visit my mother’s grave,” a patient told me. “I put the stones there, I knew I had to pray, but believing in nothing, I put my head down and prayed to ‘nothing’. But who, exactly, is this ‘nothing’? I ‘know’ there’s nothing out there, but I pray because there is something in that ‘nothing.’”

I like that. “There’s something in that nothing.”

Many of the creation stories have this idea. That Something is created out of Nothing. It’s an intriguing conundrum which belongs outside this blog -thankfully. Yet it is not unusual for a patient to come and tell me they have nothing to say today. Fifty minutes later we find that this Nothing contains all manner of ‘stuff’, that is very much Something! It is one of the pleasures of working as I work that I, too, can come to a session with Nothing. The analyst Adam Phillips commented that he approaches his work in a state of boredom, waiting for his patient to enliven him.  I know what he means. A patient came to see me asking for advice about a problem. I explained that I didn’t ‘do’ advice because I saw no point to it. They looked puzzled and irritated.  “You don’t give advice?”

“No… but what I can do is listen with you and think with you, to try and understand what might be going on, both here in this room and at home.”

“So you have no advice for me about what I should do?”

“That’s right. But as I have said, I can listen and comment on what I hear.”

My patient left feeling cross and irritated – which was not my intention. But unless they were able to risk Nothingness, I couldn’t help them.  There are, in fact, many days when I half wish I had trained  in CBT. Then I would have a manual to refer to:

“Anxiety states pp 12-45, Depression pp 1-56, Anger management pp 45-70”

And so on. A set technique for any given problem. Learn the manual and, hey presto, you are a therapist! Apologies to my CBT colleagues for a shameless caricature of your work but sadly I can’t work like that. I like Nothing. It’s so interesting.


Counselling, Mindfullness, Psychotherapy, The Inner World, The unconscious, Uncategorized, Ways of Being

10 Miles to go

A friend and I completed a 100 mile cycle ride yesterday. It was hard work! But enjoyable-if you like that sort of  thing! We managed to achieve Gold medal standard in our age group by finishing in seven hours. We had not set out with any expectations of  doing anything more than completing the ride before sunset! The medals were a huge boost to tired legs and sore backsides. We climbed a total of 3,000 feet in those seven hours. And alternately cursed, smiled, wept depending on where we were at any given point in the ride.

The hardest part came after 90 miles. There was a sign proclaiming “10 miles to go.” We whooped with excitement. A mere 10 miles. No problem! A few minutes later my friend turned to me and said “You know what that means, don’t you?” “Yes,” I said. “It means we’ve still got another 40 minutes riding to do.” For a short time our euphoria vanished in the face of how much work was still left. We carried on pedalling and, eventually passed over Marlow bridge and in to the finishing area, got our times and medals and gave each other a High Five, grinning like a pair of Cheshire cats.

As a mental health nurse I was always taught that the most dangerous point in the recovery of someone who is depressed, is not the acute phase. Mostly they are too depressed to act out in any way at all. The crisis comes when they are getting better. I’d always taken this as axiomatic. A useful piece of clinical data when managing somebody who is depressed. That remains true.  Until yesterday, however, I had never really experienced that maxim first hand. We’d ridden 90 miles. We’d got up at six in the morning, loaded the bikes, parked the car, signed in and set off on the ride. We griped, complained smiled etc. Then we  got to the “almost there” mark and nearly threw our bikes away and called a taxi .I’m pleased we didn’t. (And  “Thank You”to all my friends who sent “Bravo” messages.They are much appreciated.

Whilst being ill is horrible, one knows where one is in a strange way. Hair falling out? Blame the chemo. Depressed. Blame the divorce. Dropping things? Blame the arthritis. One gains much justified support and sympathy an acute phase. The problems begin with recovery. One’s life is no longer in immediate danger. The expectation is that one can resume normal duties-albeit in a graded way. It is this stage that is the most demanding. Having come so far, that final 10 miles seems so near yet so far. Small wonder that this is the danger phase in so many illnesses. As it was on our ride. Hope had been kindled followed by the almost overwhelming realisation of how much effort was still required of us.

Once more I’ve had practice teach me the real meaning of theory. But on reflection, I’m still pleased they told us we only had another 10 miles left. If only because it made the 5 mile marker all the sweeter.


10 miles to go

Counselling, The Inner World, The unconscious, Uncategorized, Ways of Being

Anger Management

Peace Knight 2The roots of the word “Anger” are in the ideas of Distress, Sorrow, Grief and Affliction. A far cry from the road rage motorist or the violent husband. Yet when one stops to think about it, the connection is more obvious. In today’s Thought for the Day on Radio 4, Dr. Sam Wells spoke about two causes of violence.

“There are two aspects to violence. One is fantasy. The fantasy of violence supposes that all opposition, disagreement or subversion can be overcome through degrees of obliteration, and the threat of them… the other aspect of violence is oblivion. By oblivion I mean the deliberate removal of oneself  from conscious, rational, relational existence.”

I think it is legitimate to swop “anger” for “violence”. Particularly since one so often spawns the other. (I am not talking here about ordinary, everyday anger which we all know about and which, mostly, fades quickly. I am talking about the near psychotic levels of rage which is unthinking and dangerous to all. Often exhibited by young men in their cars.) What lies behind out-of-control anger is so often a feeling of impotence, inadequacy and emptiness. I was talking with someone recently about anger and its purpose. It became apparent that they had used anger to keep the world at bay. If nobody could get close, there was no risk of vulnerability. After a while he commented “I’ve spent forty years building a prison for myself.” I had to agree.

The  image that comes to mind in working with anger management is that of a besieged castle. I understand that in a siege it was sometimes uncertain who would run out of rations first. The besieged or the besiegers. Problematic anger seems to follow a similar pattern. One is angry at being unloved and uncared about, so uses anger to keep these difficult feelings at bay. Which creates a vicious cycle, of course. Eventually most terrorist groups end up talking directly to those whom they are fighting. (Presumably at some point even Isis will end up talking directly with those whom they hate. The classic case in the UK is the IRA)

The image at the top of this blog is of an emissary with a truce flag. Sooner or later envoys have to meet and risk talking to the enemy. This is true of the inner world. At some point we have to send out an emissary to engage with the external world. It’s a risky business! If I allow my defences to come down even briefly, what will happen? If I stop being angry at everyone and begin to talk and listen, where will it end? Will I be exploited? This is the work of Anger Management. To negotiate a truce between the warring parties and allow a conversation to happen. Albeit in this case a conversation between different parts of myself. From here it might be possible to start a conversation with the outside world. And who knows were this might lead?


Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being

3D living?

daily round and common task

I remember the hymn “New Every Morning” with its verse ”

The trivial round, the common task

will furnish all we need to ask

room to deny ourselves; a road

to bring us daily nearer God.”


Many years ago I was as  a devout Evangelical Christian, this verse was central to my thinking .Less for its emphasis on the mundane and  more because it gave an idea that everything was sacred..That every event in my life was either ordained by God or could be used to develop my spiritual life. In the language of those days, one was given a cross to carry. The size and weight of the cross was variable-but its purpose was to allow God to create His character in us. It’s an interesting doctrine and one I can see as useful. One of the benefits was that it allowed me to find a purpose in whatever suffering I might be going through.(The image at the top of this blog is Google’s response to typing in the verse I’ve just mentioned. For me, at least, it speaks of way finding, an idea implicit in the hymn.)

I want to link this idea of purpose to Isis / Al Qaida’s actions. Or at least to show how this idea might be played out in the minds of those who are able to drive  a lorry into a crowd of tourists, bomb a newspaper office, shoot an off duty soldier etc. I think what links all these actions-and so many more- must be the sense of  purpose that it gives, particularly if there are mental health issues at stake where one’s sense of self can become so fragile. Linking oneself to Isis or any similar group is to create a sense of belonging .One is part of a crusade to bring about the Kingdom on earth. To rid the world of the heretics who are corrupting the innocent.

(And here is where I want to write a paragraph in parenthesis or as a long footnote, but i’ll try to avoid that temptation  and incorporate it into the mainstream.) It is important to try and understand what it is that Isis etc are trying to destroy.We often attack in others the thing we most fear in ourselves. I attack what I most desire and, therefore,  most fear.The same dynamic works at an Organisational and Political level as well as at the individual level. So in the “Je Suis Charlie” what was being attacked was the idea of freedom of speech and thought. (Intolerable blasphemies for fundamentalists of any kind.) In the Night Club shooting we might  imagine how deeply envious the attackers were of those inside having the temerity to enjoy themselves. (A psychoanalytic understanding of paranoia is that the individual attacks outwardly to defend against the inner attacks in his psyche. The technical term is projective identification.)

I titled this blog 3D living? That was can attempt to consider how rich life can seem given a Higher Purpose. It probably doesn’t matter what, exactly, the Higher Purpose is. To run a marathon every day for a year; To ride a monocycle from Lands End to John o’ Groats in aid of charity or to become an Al Qaeda champion. There is a new purpose to one’s life.  It turns ordinary 2D living into a 3D extravaganza. And can be very helpful .Many charities have their followers who do extraordinary feats for their cause. But more importantly there are multitudes of people who support charities with small Standing orders each month. Churches, mosques and Synagogues are supported each week by the regular worshippers. These are the ones who make 2D ling into something rich and nourishing. They are the people for whom the daily round, the common task is sufficient.


Reflective Practice, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being

The Referendum

EU-referendum-ballot-paper-i am well aware of the multitude of words already written about the Referendum and its result. I am not going to attempt another political analysis. But since it has come into my counselling room this week, I thought I’d try and offer some thoughts about the psychological impact the result is having. Albeit on only a small and unrepresentative sample i.e.  those people who are currently in therapy with me. One of my patients reported a dream on the Saturday night following the Referendum. He dreamt he was in the middle of a nuclear bomb exploding and he frantically tried to protect his family. It didn’t seem to need too much analysis to link this dream to his response to the Referendum. Suddenly the world had become a less safe place.

Other patients have reported how unsafe and insecure they now feel in a world where their future feels more than usually uncertain. There have been tears and anger. In several cases these feelings  have resurrected earlier feelings of loss and abandonment. The psychiatrist R.D. Laing tells the story of a mother who held her young child by his ankles from a balcony several hundred feet from the ground. “See how much I love you, ” she comments, “I don’t let you go.” I’m not sure how the child received the message but one can’t imagine it was an enjoyable experience. Somebody observed that it sounded as though the mother was reassuring herself of her love for her child. And for the child parts of herself with whom she may have had an uneasy relationship.

For  many the success of the Brexit campaign feels rather like this mother. It’s an odd and dangerous way to express their love. But their love for whom? I heard the report of a former soldier in floods of tears at the result. “At last, I’ve got my country back.” I was left wondering about his view of his country. He seemed to be describing a different world to the one I inhabit.

The psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, following Freud, came up with the idea of the Paranoid-Schizoid position in which the young baby has to create two mummies. The Good mummy who attends to his every need at all times. And the bad mummy who fails him. This mummy keeps him waiting for a feed or a nappy change or attention. As he grows older the child has to reconcile the two mummies. The good mother is also the bad one, and vice versa. I find myself wondering if something similar is happening with the Brexit victory. That there is a wish to banish the nasty mummy who allows outsiders to take our jobs, steal our homes, fill up our G.P.’s surgeries and so on. And by extension to banish the vulnerable and needy parts of  ourselves.

My final quote is from Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming’. It needs no commentary.

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer:

Things fall apart: the centre cannot hold:

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”

Counselling, Mindfullness, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Uncategorized, Ways of Being

The Rose upon the Rood of Time or The God of Small Things

rose of timeW.B.Yeats wrote a poem “To the Rose upon the Rood of Time” which has in it the lines

“Come near, that no more blinded by man’s fate,

I find under the boughs of love and hate,

In all poor foolish things that live a day,

Eternal beauty wandering on her way.”

What reminded me of this poem were my thoughts about leaving God. In my teens and twenties I was immersed in Charismatic Christianity. One of the many core ideas here was that one’s life was ruled by God. All that happened was either expressly willed by God or could be used by Him to shape one’s Christian life. This idea is epitomised in St.Paul’s teaching as, for example in the verse in Romans “All things work together for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28) or as another translation puts it :”God works all things together for good for those who love Him.” It’s a comforting doctrine that no matter what may occur in my life, God can and will use it for my benefit. This doctrine neatly “solves” one aspect of the problem of Evil .Whilst God may not have explicitly  have caused an earthquake or a terrorist bomb or a car crash, He nonetheless will take these events and help us find some good in them. (Which is fine as far as it goes. It just doesn’t go far enough. It is an unsatisfactory theodicy.) Take away an all purposing God and what is one left with? For me, one is left with seeing eternal beauty in all poor foolish things that live a day. Or to use Arundhati Roy’s phrase, one is left with the God of Small Things.

I remember once talking to a chaplain at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. He was saying how many parents ask “Why did this happen?” in relation to a child who may have died. He said that he often replied that the meaning is that there is no meaning. I interpret this as a way of saying,”The only meaning in your child’s death is the meaning you are able to give it. That is the last gift you can give your child. To shape some meaning out of the loss.” I think this holds true for all loss. We have the power to give shape, form and meaning to the events and circumstances of our lives. We may choose to see events as being ordained by a deity even if we cannot understand why this should be the case. (“Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him”was Job’s response to his suffering). Or we find a more mundane way of giving meaning. We set up a charity; we run marathons; we train as counsellors; there are innumerable ways in which we can give meaning to Life. To find eternal beauty wandering on her way. This way of Being is both harder and easier than believing in an omnipotent divine Father. It means grappling with very hard, difficult questions that risk swamping us. These questions are all the harder because we are thrown back on our own resources .We can no longer say, “This is the will of God” and hope that somehow an answer will be forthcoming. We are left to ourselves and to find eternal beauty where we may. Whilst that is hard I still prefer it to an idea that a mystical being is somehow in charge of my destiny.