Pondering time

madonnaAs Christmas comes round, I was thinking about Mary. In particular her patience and thoughtfulness- “mindfulness” to use a popular word. Luke’s gospel notes that “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Lk.2:19) What she pondered we don’t exactly know. But being a new mother, facing an insecure ruler and having to become refugee might be some of the things on her mind. The gospels do not say a great deal about Mary but there is a sense that she was able to contain many thoughts, feelings, anxieties and the like. And to be a good enough wife and mother.

I recently assessed  patient for counselling. We had talked for about an hour and had agreed that we could work together. I said that we would plan to evaluate the work after an initial ten sessions. The response was astonishment. “That long?” I asked how long they had thought the work would take. “I don’t know. but not that long.” I suggested that we might need much more than ten sessions and that they consider at least six months of work. My patient went away pondering.

I recently received a text message asking  me to offer someone an appointment for counselling. The message was something like “Please when is your soonest appointment please?” With a name after the text. I replied and asked them to ring me, which they didn’t do. what struck me at the time was the sense that neither the sender nor me felt like whole people. Both of us were, in analytic terms, part objects. We were bits of a person, not full human beings. As if a mouth met a breast in isolation. The mouth was not attached to a baby and the breast not attached to a mother. There was no pondering space-or as Winnicott calls it Transitional Space. By which he meant a space to play, dream, explore and be safe.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has become the dominant model of counselling at the moment. It offers short term work at a relatively superficial level. It is the counselling equivalent of Roadside Recovery. It gets me home and leaves it up to me to decide what to do about the broken down car. It is very much a case of “It does what it says on the tin.” What it does not provide is pondering time. Time that Mary clearly gave herself and was able to use for both herself and her family.

Winnicott speaks of the mother presenting the breast at the time when the infant is wanting the breast. There is a sense of a recognition of a need and the satisfaction of meeting that need. This , of course, is what happens in good enough counselling. Or good enough marriages. There is an attunement to the other’s needs. This attunement can only arise from pondering time. Which in itself takes time.


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