Counselling, Hope, Narratives, Reflective Practice, The Inner World, Ways of Being

Cinderella sees a counsellor

This is  for Andy who wasn’t sure about Freud and Cinderella. And for Clare who pointed out that, sometimes, less sweat makes for better writing.

Leonora De Havilland looked at her appointment diary. At 10:00 this morning she was due to assess Cindy. That was all the name she had. And that she wanted reduced fee work. Preferably free work since she was on a very limited budget. That was the sum total of the information she had given Leonora’s secretary. As a counsellor who was very much in demand Leonora could afford to offer some low-cost work. That and the fact that she charged a hundred pounds a session to her Harley Street patients. She could afford to be generous – sometimes!

Her phone rang “Your ten 0′ clock patient has arrived” said her secretary.  Leonora got up, collected her patient and invited her to come in and sit down.  “Hello. I’m Leonora.” A pause.  A longer pause. The pause carried on.

Mmmm thought Leonora. A therapy virgin. Doesn’t know the rules. Free association and all that. Better say something or we’ll be all day.

“What brings you to therapy, Cindy? How do you think I can help you? ”

Cindy sat there looking down at the floor. Leonora waited. The girl was clean and tidy albeit wearing an old dress and shoes. Her hair was tied back in a pony tail and she wore no make up. Her hands, which she was busy wringing, were obviously used to hard work.

” Mum died when I was small.  It was just me and dad for ages. That was nice. Then he met this woman. June. They got married last year. We moved in with them. She’s got two daughters from a previous marriage. They hate me. So does their mum. They bully me all the time. I can’t stand it much longer. I’d be better off dead…” She left the sentence unfinished.

Poor kid, thought Leonora. I know that feeling. (Fortunately she had worked through her “issues” in her own extensive therapy. God, five times a week for twenty years. How did she find the time, money or energy?)

“Can you tell me a bit more, Cindy?” (When in doubt, ask an open question.)

“There’s not much more to tell. Dad always takes June’s side in everything. I used to try to tell him stuff, but then I gave up. He would tell me that I was being selfish. That he was lonely too. That June had had a hard life. That I should be grateful to her for looking after me as well as Mary and Clare.” She stopped again.

(Leonora sighed inwardly. This was going to be a long 50 minutes. And for free. She would have to review her pro bono work. Charity was all well and good but she did expect her patients to do their share of the work.)

 

“It sounds as though you don’t like June very much. You feel she’s stolen your father from you… you might be very angry him for doing that…” Leonora sat back in her comfortable chair, steepled her hands and waited. She looked the clock on the wall.  Only 10 minutes. It felt like an hour.

“I couldn’t hate dad. He’s all I’ve got. And he’s entitled to a bit of happiness. It’s June and Mary and Clare I really hate. They make me do all the chores. ‘Cindy have you finished the washing up? Cindy why haven’t you laid the fire? Cindy come here. There’s dust on top of this picture. No dinner for you, my girl. I haven’t got time for you and your slovenly ways. And I’ve got my sister coming to stay and she’s in your room. So you’re sleeping downstairs for the week.’ And I go out of my way to be kind to them. Mother would have been, so I try to be the same. But it’s so hard at a times…”

“Mmm” pondered Leonora. “Oedipal material? Wants daddy all to herself with mummy dead. Gets what she wants and feels guilty. Thinks she’s responsible for mum. But delighted to have daddy back again. Then loses him again and is left with murderous rage. Could work.”  But after a moment or two’s reflection she decided against this interpretation. Too complicated for this girl. She’d save that idea for her Harley Street patients. They lapped it up. The more arcane and obscure she made their problems sound, the more they came back. Instead she settled for a neutral but empathetic response.

” You must feel very lonely at times.”

“Oh yes.I go to mother’s grave every day and cry. I tell her all about father and June and Mary and Clare. I’m sure she hears me. I mean, that’s what mothers do, isn’t it? Listen to their children.”

“Shit” thought Leonora. “Where did that come from?” For a brief moment she was back in her childhood home with a new step dad who liked her far too much. Then her own two daughters whom she never saw. So much lost. That’s why she’d come into this work, her therapist had pointed out .To try and make herself better by helping other people. Possibly.

“Well, yes. That’s one of the things a parent tries to do.”  She looked at the clock. 10:50. Five minutes left.

“I think there’s a lot to talk about, Cindy. Much more than we have time for in this session. Do you want to come back?”

Damn. Where had that come from. She’d had no intention of taking on this girl.

“Yes please. If that’s alright. And thank you.”

“Good. I’ll see you this time next week. Goodbye.

 

 

 

 

Standard
Counselling, Dreams, Hope, Narratives, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being

Cinderella continues

I wanted to take my musings on the Cinderella a bit further and look at the story in terms  of Freud’s paper “Mourning and Melancholia”. (These days we talk about depression, not melancholia. It is the same thing.) I started by thinking that Cinderella was depressed. The story well describes the feelings attached to depression. A sense of impoverishment (sitting in dirty clothes in the ashes).  A feeling of being persecuted ( her step family hate her). Feelings that any task is impossible,( the tasks set her by her step family).  An idea that everyone else is much better off than oneself ( her step sisters can go to the Ball but she cannot).  Then I began to think a bit more deeply. Cinderella is Mourning .Her mother has died and her father has, effectively, abandoned her. But despite all this, she can still have Hope. She can dream that she could, somehow, go to the Ball. She can believe that she  is worthy.This self belief is more than justified when the Prince falls in love with her. It is also her self belief that allows to try on the glass slipper. These are not the actions of a woman who is depressed. The depressive would have decided that nothing was ever going to be good again. That the ashes in which she sat were all she deserved and all she could expect. She would not have gone to the ball and certainly would not have tried on the slipper. What was the point? She was ugly inside and outside.

This, of course, is one of the difficulties with depression. And the difference between Mourning and Melancholia. Freud puts it like this “In mourning it is the world that has become poor and empty. In melancholia it is the ego itself.” Cinderella’s mourning for her dead mother eventually allows her to begin to hope. (Or this is so in the Perrault version.) From a place of mourning she can begin to heal. Things are transformed. A pumpkin becomes a Carriage. Mice become Horses. A rat morphs into a Coachman and a lizard becomes a Footman. The things around her that are ordinary and commonplace become a source of pleasure and optimism. Not only for Cinderella but also for the Prince. And, by implication, for a new dynasty since Princes and Princesses always continue a Royal line and hopefully, rule well and wisely.

The picture at the top of this blog is Durer’s “Melancholia”. In it the central figure is surrounded by all the riches of the world but is unable to take any comfort from them. Durer obviously had a keen understanding of Depression! It is one  of the challenges of working with someone who is depressed. Along with the sadness, there is frequently a profound rage. (An extreme example of this rage being acted out is in suicide, which, amongst other things, is an attack on those around. Born out of a fury.)

Cinderella was sad. Understandably. But she had enough good things inside her to allow her to grow. To hold on to Hope. She could accept her sadness and mourn the things she had lost. But she did not need to destroy herself in the process.

Standard
Aylesbury, Borderline States, Counselling, Dreams, Hope, Narratives, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being

Relativity

In our creative writing class last week we were asked to write a short piece about Time. for some reason the formula above cam e in to my mind. Im not sure whty. I don’t usually remember formulae. But it prompted me to do some thinking. Then i n the coffee shop recently i heard two people talking. One was talking to his friend about going on holiday.

“If it’s just the three of us, then we get along fine. We all slot into our roles and it works very well. Then my son comes along and everything changes .I’m not sure why. I guess we’ll just have to try and make it work.”

This reminded me of the Speed / Distance /Time  formula. Which them lead me on to musing about our psychic equations. The relationship between the different parts  of ourselves. The Ego / Id / Super Ego  combination of Freud’s work.  Or Melanie Klein’s two positions. Or Jung’s ideas about our shadow side. (All this whilst drinking my latte.) It was almost cold by the time I’d finished my reverie!) That we are  not single entities. We know this to be true in our bodies. They are designed to work as a system, not as separate little kingdoms. The speed / distance /time formula is also bot relationships within a system.

And the problem with systems is that they challenge our omnipotence.  Whilst my eyes know, logically, that they have to rely on my ears to help them, a part of them would love to declare UDI from the rest of the body. (Fortunately this doesn’t often happen!) So in the inner world. My love cannot function without an awareness of my hate. And vice versa.  My patients have to face this tension. My ability to help them comes at a cost to their omnipotence. By seeing me thee is an acknowledgement that they need help.

So, with all this as context, here is the piece that I wrote for my class.

Time is furious. She thinks that she reigns supreme. Controlling all galaxies, empires and lives. She measures our mortal span. Three score years and ten. She defines our galaxies .Defines the star Sirius, for example as being 8.6 light years from Earth. bt she cannot rule alone. If she is to be useful, she has to be  in relationship. In this formula she is defined by Distance and Speed. Much as she resents this fact, it is True. To be useful she must share with Distance and Speed. And they with her – which gives her some satisfaction. Distance needs her along with Time. Speed the same. In a perfect world, Time would be supreme. But this is not  the case. So like a haughty dowager,  treating Distance and Speed as her servants. Ignoring the fact that she is dependent on them. Thus keeping intact her fantasy of self-sufficiency. The doxology comes to mind. “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” Time is always relative.

In my preparation for this blog I found this quotation. I think it sums things up very well. (I\m only glad i found it  at the end of my work, not at the beginning otherwise I might have felt I had nothing new to say!)

“There is no Jesus without Judas; no Martin Luther king, Jr, without the Klan; no Ali without Joe Frazier; no freedom without tyranny. No wisdom exists that does not include perspective. Relativity is the greatest gift.”  (Chris Crutcher, King of the Mild Frontier.)

Standard
Counselling, Dreams, Hope, Narratives, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being

The road less travelled

Robert Frost’s lines are so well-known that it seems unfair to use them yet again. But they do sum up what I want to write about better than any other lines. So once again these lines will be used to talk about journeying. I was talking with one of my patients and we were going along familiar and comfortable ground, which is not to underrate its importance. One of the core ideas in therapy is that of working through. That process whereby we visit and revisit a theme or topic until there is a sense of resolution and understanding. But occasionally it becomes too easy to follow the familiar twists of known material and to miss something important. If I’m alert to my patient and listening properly to them I become aware of hints about other aspects  of familiar material. My task then is to bring them to my patient’s attention and to invite them to explore this new place.

When my wife and I are on holiday in a new city, we often allow ourselves to get lost. We’ll see a side street and choose to go down it. Just to see where it goes. It’s fun with somebody else. I don’t enjoy doing it by myself. I panic about getting lost forever, although Google maps are surprisingly empowering! It is on these streets that one gets to see the hidden life of a city, the elements that are not on public display but are more private and intimate reflecting a real life rather than a sanitised one. Marrakech was particularly keen that tourists only go along prescribed routes sending us via the souks rather than a different set of streets. Other cities have been more welcoming.

The process of psychotherapy and counselling goes along a similar pattern. I want to take my therapist along known, familiar routes that are prepared for their arrival. I set out my market stalls of attractive goods, all carefully displayed. I do not invite them to look underneath my stall and see the rotting fruit, the rats, and other detritus lurking there. Yet the under stall is as important as the public display. Here is the stuff that is real and messy and has to be managed in some way. It is definitely not for public display! Nor do I expect that it should be. But therapy is different. It is about those less travelled roads. About the stuff under the stall.

A patient asked me about the meaning of a particular psychoanalytic term. Or rather, they couldn’t allow themselves to ask. They gave their understanding of the term and promptly dismissed what they said. “Oh! you probably know all about that, don’t you. You’re the counsellor. I don’t know stuff like that. I’ve probably got it all wrong, as usual.” I was quiet for a little while then commented on the way they had asked – or not asked – the question. This took us into a rich conversation about their envy of me; their reluctance to have to allow themselves to not know something; their difficulty in allowing me to share something with them. These were themes that ran through their life and had shaped much of what they had done. The conversation was rich and enjoyable as we began to reflect on that moment. It would have been easy to give a “correct” answer to the question.  This would have missed so much. I had to risk taking us down a road less travelled. Hopefully we’ll continue to explore this road in future sessions.

The road more travelled is, usually, seen as much safer. Mostly it is better signposted and there is more traffic. The less travelled roads can feel more lonely. Less well signposted. This is why we invite our patients to walk with us. We do not simply give them a map and compass and tell them to meet us at the next trig point. We walk the road with them – and they with us. It is always a shared journey. It requires as much courage from the therapist as from the patient – something our patients don’t always see! Nor, of course, are they necessarily aware of how many of our own roads we have explored. Nor of what we have discovered going along them. (Perhaps it should be a rule when choosing a therapist. Don’t trust them if they haven’t got blistered feet!)

And, to close, a lovely interpretation of Frost’s poem.

 

 

 

 

Standard
Counselling, Dreams, Hope, Madness, Narratives, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being

Beauty and the Beast


 For Kevin who very helpfully suggested that I write this particular blog. I hope it meets with your approval!

 

I recently went and watched the current version of Beauty and the Beast, directed by Bill Condon. I loved it. I’m always willing to be seduced by a romance. This film ticked all the boxes as far as I was concerned. Love, passion, pain, denial, deceit, justice and a few more issues en route. what was not to like? I hesitated for about two weeks before allowing myself to go and see it. I didn’t have an accompanying child and was genuinely concerned about how  I might be seen going to this film as a man by myself. In the end I gathered up my courage  and went to see it-half expecting to be asked to produce my CRB certificate. I wasn’t!

The story lends itself to various interpretations .One is see it as a narrative about Stockholm syndrome Another reads it as a  feminist story. Another as a psychoanalytic account. Or even as “just” a fairy tale!   All of which can be laid onto the story. As Bruno Bettelheim wrote “… fairy tales carry important messages to the conscious, the preconscious and the unconscious  mind, on whatever level each is functioning.”  (The Uses of Enchantment 1975)  . For this blog, I want to write  about it from a psychoanalytic perspective. I want to take a Kleinian view and think about the ways in which both Beauty and the Beast have to come to terms with parts of themselves they have previously denied. And the consequences for both themselves and others if they fail to achieve this understanding.

I think one of the many things that is going on in this story is that both Beauty and the Beast have to recognise themselves in the other.

Initially they both deny the Other in themselves. Beauty hates the Beast for holding her captive.  But we all know that hatred brings with it  a host of other feelings. Rage, anger, fury, and a wish for vengeance, the capacity for similar cruelty. (ISIS amongst others is demonstrating this so clearly. The victim is capable of as much cruelty as the perpetrator.) In the early part of the story, Beauty can protect herself from her beastliness by projecting it into the Beast, who is a willing recipient of these feelings-for reasons of his own.  For the Beast the challenge is to risk accessing  his own vulnerability and allow himself to become loving and caring. To see in himself the parts of himself owned by Beauty. In so doing he has to risk rejection. There is no guarantee that Beauty will love him or see anything in him beyond  his beast self. Both have a vested interest in not changing. Barrack Obama caught this idea in his comment “Change  will not come if we for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Unfortunately it is not only Beauty and the Beast who are trapped in the castle. Others are also involved and trapped by the spell that binds the Beast. They can only find freedom if the Beast learns to love. The metaphor is not difficult to see! But it remains true in the inner world. Until we learn to love and be loved, many aspects  of our personality are frozen. Ironically the converse is true. If we never learn about our hatred what meaning is there to our love? (This is where I struggle somewhat with the gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion etc. We are  never shown his anger about what is happening to him. He is presented only as a suffering servant whose task is to fulfil someone else’s mission at considerable cost to himself. Most carers admit to knowing the shadow side of their caring self. Jesus is portrayed as having no shadow, certainly by the gospel accounts of is life.)

For both Beauty and the Beat, their responses will affect the future of others. (Whenever someone comes to me for counselling with a history of violence I invariably assume a family history of violence.  It is much the same  with anxiety. The anxious woman sitting in my room nearly always  comes from a line of worried women. Generations pass on their damage to the next one.)

In the end, both Beauty and the Beast take a risk. The result is health and wholeness for all parties. But it was a long journey! 

 

 

Standard
Counselling, Narratives, Psychoanalysis, Psychosis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being

Emotional etymology

I realise how often I will look up a word’s etymology when writing a blog. It seems a way in which I can ground my thoughts and my writing. A literary “ground of my Being”. It gives me a sense of starting from somewhere honest, which is the original sense of the word “etymology”. It has to do with true meanings. But words don’t remain static. Thankfully. They “slip, slide, won’t stay still” to quote Eliot. ( A friend wrote a brave and fascinating piece on the word “cunt” I’m not sure I would have been as brave!) My thoughts then wondered off to my clinical work and the idea of clinical etymology i.e. what are the origins of this symptom, idea, fantasy etc.  (Freud’s essay on The Rat Man is a classic example of the beginning of a symptom and the ways in which these symptoms changed over time. It is also an exploration of the creative uses to which we put our symptoms. It is also quite opaque at times with Freud making extraordinary jumps of understanding and interpretation. But why should this be a surprise? If language is full of hidden histories, how much more so our unconscious lives?)

To take this idea a little further, we can follow Lacan in suggesting that the unconscious  is  structured as a language. Which might give us access to wondering about what part of speech any given symptom m might equate to. Thus a symptom may serve several functions. It might work as a noun, having a naming function which also serves as a limiter i.e. it is this thing, not that thing. It is depression, not anger. A symptom may also  be a verb. a doing word i.e. I”do” psychosis. It is an active process that needs a subject and an object to fully make sense. (Which is why whenever we take a clinical history, we try to put a symptom into a context. When did this symptom first begin? How do you use it? There is really no such thing as an isolated symptom .Somewhere in the unconscious we will find the rest of its family.

And like any good piece of writing, I’m now struggling to find a satisfying way of ending my blog. I think M.Scott Peck sums it up beautifully when he writes, in The Road Less Travelled “The fact of the matter is that our unconscious is wiser than we are about everything.”

Standard
Counselling, Dreams, Hope, Mindfullness, Narratives, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, Ways of Being

Whomper asks the best questions

unknown

” ‘They’re all so unlike me’ he thought, ‘They have feelings and they see colours and hear sounds and whirl around, but what they feel and see and hear, and why they whirl around doesn’t concern them in the least’.” (Whomper)

“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.” (Thomas Pynchon)

As a counsellor I find myself interested by Pynchon’s observation, because there really are no wrong questions in therapy. Certainly not from the point of view of the patient-  or of the therapist listening to the patient. Within the confines of the 50 minute session, all questions are interesting and important because they are all a form of communication which can lead into other issues. So the simple question about holiday dates has one reply. “I’m away throughout August.” The question could rest there. But the work lies in hearing the unasked thought. Perhaps  “I envy you. A whole month off. Lucky you.”  Or  “But you can’t leave me for a whole month. I need you.”  This can then take us to a conversation about envy, anger, hatred jealousy, abandonment and so on. (As well as a genuine wish that the therapist has an enjoyable holiday!)

Whomper and the other Moomintrolls find themselves affected by a nearby volcano exploding and disrupting their normal lives. (Volcanos are good at that!) The rest of the family seem quite sanguine about events. Not so Whomper who wants to ask all sorts of difficult questions about things and cannot understand why nobody else is as bothered as he is by these events. It is interesting that Jansson gives him the task of worrying because his name, Whomper, carries a sense of  someone who rushes about carelessly, just muddling through. Yet he ask the most interesting questions “What”and”Why”.  when I was lecturing it was common for a shy or diffident student to ask the most interesting question. “But… why do we do this?” Sometimes they almost apologised for asking a “Silly” question. Whomper seems to be doing this. “Why do people do this? What do they feel about things?”

I spent a few years in a very fundamentalist Christian group. I was one of those who always asked the “wrong” questions. I remember saying something one day and being looked at with blank bewilderment. If had spoken in Hebrew or Swahili, I could not have been more marginalised. It wasn’t that I had asked a “wrong” question, it was that I had asked a non-question. The thought processes that lead me to ask my question were inconceivable to the mind of the person to whom I was speaking. (I fairly quickly chose what questions I asked where and when. And  of whom!) For Whomper seems to be encountering something like this. (Perhaps that’s why he’s always in a hurry. So many questions to ask and so many possible answers .And so little time taken to hear the unasked question.)unknown

 

So unlike Pynchon, I’m not sure there are wrong questions. But that’s the luxury of being a therapist. One is always trying to understand the meaning of the question. To try and understand why “they” have feelings and see colours and hear sounds.

 

Standard