I will begin with a quote from Tolkien’s essay “Tree and Leaf.” He writes “Faerie contains many things besides elves, and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky: and the earth and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.” I like that image of faerie containing just about anything and everything. It made me think of my counselling room and the work that happens there. Almost anything can be held in that room.The most joyous dream, the most frightening fantasy. And it can be thought about and explored with no fear of judgement or censure. which is what my faerie would be!
Then I came to the final words “… and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.” I wondered about not including them in the quotation because they seem to imply that the work of counselling is about enchantment. That my patients are under some kind of spell when they see me and this spell leads them to say or do things they wouldn’t normally do. (Akin to a stage hypnotist.) There are times when I wish I could cast a spell and enable my patient to get to the core of their issues much more quickly. (Which was where CBT was born.) Not to hurry them but to allow them to get to the core of their hurt. But an integral part of the work is that it takes time. A patient comes saying “I feel depressed.” I respond with some questions and then listen to their replies and comment on them. And so the process goes on. Sometimes for weeks, sometimes for years. But there is no enchantment.
Then I remembered Winnicott and his work on play.He talks of the space between the infant and the breast as a transitional space (see the picture on the right.) In this space Winnicott places play, dreaming, art, religious feeling and a host of other transitional phenomena. To add another quotation to this piece I will again use Winnicott. Writing about play he says “Psychotherapy takes place in the overlap of two areas of playing, that of the patient and that of the therapist.Psychotherapy has to do with two people playing together.”
So we’re back to enchantment, since play is a kind of enchantment. The therapist’s task is to join in with the patient’s play and to seek a shared understanding of that play. So, I can quote Tolkien. I can keep my belief in Faerie as a repository for all things from dragons and elves to the seas, the sun and the moon. Which is just as well, since all those things inhabit my inner world.