Analogue Brain

I was sitting having coffee with a friend who I know is ” good with I.T.” He understands these things. I was struggling to set up another Twitter account. I’d followed all the rules. Pressed all the right buttons. Uttered all the appropriate digital incantations. To no avail. “Here. You have a look. You do this stuff.” He looked at the runes. Waved his digital wand and told me what steps to take. It made no difference. I couldn’t understand a word. He sighed and pronounced judgement ” Your problem is that you have an analogue mind in a digital world.” He’s absolutely right. My brain doesn’t seem to do digital.

I’ve just visited the Tesla museum in Belgrade. We were given a tour with various clever demonstrations. My wife and friends assumed I’d be bored. I wasn’t. I wasn’t engaged enough to be bored. I simply had no framework into which I could put what I was hearing. ( I say this with no sense of ludditism. I should be better informed.) I’m not. Put me in front of a Dali painting and I’ll find a way in. Jackson Pollock’s work is the same. I know how to think about what I’m seeing.

Psychoanalysis is the same. I can work with dreams. I can make sense of my patient’s material however it is communicated. Even if  I feel completely lost in a session, I can think about that state of mind and wonder about it. 

As a teenager I remember my father coming back from a school open day and reporting my headmaster’s indictment of me. He says your head is full of nothing. This was not true. My head was not full of maths, physics and chemistry. It was full of Romeo and Juliet. Of dreams and hopes that could not be contained in a dry formula.

Fifty years on and very little has changed. If    I’m sitting with a patient I’m not good at concise formulations. I can’t build a plan of action based on an initial assessment. I meet my patient as they are on that day in that moment. I’ll wave my hands and say things like ” You know it occurs to me that…” Or ” I think you want me to understand that…”  I worked in a CBT team for a few months. It was not a success. I focussed on all the wrong things. I was supposed to divide my patient into neat proportions and ratios. Anxiety = 60% Depression = 40% Therefore create a plan of action for the depression. I left after a year.

My point is to make a plea for those of us who are digitally challenged. We aren’t being difficult when we can’t make this app. work. We know that a good digital filing system with appropriate passwords is a thing of beauty. It’s just that finding the meaning in Dali seems so much more useful. Or being able to create a well framed interpretation of a patient’s words. Here only analogue will do…

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


For Leslie Ellis who runs the best Creative Writing class in the World.


For some time now I’ve been thinking about the Cinderella story, triggered by a comment once again by my Creative Writing tutor who makes numerous fascinating comments about all manner of things. These pieces have been rumbling around in my brain for several weeks and have taken me in to the Oedipus complex and its partner, the Electra complex. Then into both Freud and Jung who might represent the King and the Prince in the Cinderella story. Add Melanie Klein and we recreate the family of the story.

Broadly speaking the child gains a sense of their identity, self-worth and desirability from their relationship with the parent of the opposite sex. The story tells us that Cinderella’s father fails to help her achieve this because he takes a new wife whom he needs to appease. Thus his own daughter is neglected in favour of his step daughters. His own needs for  love and approval outweigh his duty to his own daughter.  A double wound for Cinderella who loses her father twice over. Once to his own rather empty inner world and, secondarily, she  looses him to her step mother and family.From being a much-loved and prized child Cinderella is now reduced to the status of a scullery maid. In theory she might have survived this assault if she had some guarantee of her father’s love for her. Sadly she gets no such message and takes on internally swell as externally the role of ashes. The detritus left over from a fire, whose warmth is denied to Cinderella but enjoyed by the rest of her family. In every possible way she is denied c

omfort and reminded of her low value and status.(As we see, she does find a spark of warmth in side herself.)

Her redemption comes from her ability to dream of something different. She can at least dream of going to the Ball. Over the years I have worked with many patients, often women, who see themselves as Cinderellas. But who have lost even the ability to dream of something better.Let alone to make it to the Ball. For these women, often the victim of violence and abuse, hope is too painful. So they settle for an existence in a twilight zone. Men come and go; often abuse them; get them pregnant and leave. Sometimes she struggles on for the sake of the children-  who all too often end up repeating the same patterns of relationships. Sometimes, however, there has been just enough love and care from somebody to give them space to dream of a different future. A good marriage, an education, a healthy family, a career.  These women find their Prince and he finds  his Princess. But to allow oneself to dream is a risky business.All too often step sisters and their ilk conspire to make sure that Cinders knows her place. It is the work of nurses, therapists and counsellors to become an enabling Fairy Godmother who from the commonplace world of pumpkins and the like enable Cinders to transform into Cinderella. 

Aylesbury, Counselling, Narratives, Psychosis, Psychotherapy, Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Uncategorized, Ways of Being

Black dog


This is the second part of my work with a patient and his story of the Black Dog of Aylesbury (www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/england/…/aylesbury-black-dog.html )

In the previous session he had told the story of a mysterious black dog and how his friend had attacked it with disastrous consequences. Here are some more notes from another session.

He is describing the place where the dog is on guard.

P.”It was stood at the far end of a field. There was a lane on the other side. Just one cottage was down there. A bit lonely, I’d have thought…”

A long pause.

T. “Where have you gone?”

P.”Oh! Nowhere. Just wool gathering. ‘A head  full of nonsense’ my mother always used to say. ‘You’ll get into trouble one day if you don’t mind those thoughts of  yours.'”

T.”I wonder if you feel you’re in trouble now?”

P. “Trouble? No. Not me. I’m a good boy these days. A wife and two children to think about.”

T.”And what do you think about them? This family of yours.”

P.”They’re great. The best thing that ever happened to me.”

At this point my patient has  a coughing fit that lasts for several minutes.  I ask if he would like glass of water.

P. “Yes. Please. Thank you.”

I get him his water which he sips slowly.

P.”Thank you. I don’t know where that came from.” Pause.

T.”Well it seems to be triggered by talking about your family. As if something got stuck in your throat and threatened to choke you.  That quite a powerful reaction…”

P. laughs uncomfortably but says nothing. He sighs deeply.

P.”I reckon that dog was a blessing in disguise…”

T. “Mmm. A blessing in disguise?”

P. Sighs. “I know who lives at the end of that lane. A young woman. Pretty. Always looks as though she wants a good time. I’ve met her in the pub a few times. Chatted with her. Brought her a drink.She told me where she  lives. Asked if I knew it. I said I did. That I sometimes walked the dogs that way. She  made it very clear that I’d always be welcomed to call round.  She lived by herself, she said, and often got lonely. Then she’d smile, finish her drink and leave. I think every man in the pub fancied her. Hard not to. After that I’d use the dogs as an excuse to go down that way. At least once a week. I never let myself know why I was going that way. But I knew…”

T.”So you wanted to have sex with her?”

P.”That makes me sound awful, doesn’t it? Here I am. Married with two children and still I want to go after some girl.”

T.”You said the dog was a blessing in disguise. What did you mean?”

P. “As long as that dog was there I couldn’t go down the lane, could I? No matter what I wanted, that dog stopped it. I hated that animal. If I could have shot it I would. But somewhere  I was relieved. It meant I couldn’t cheat on Anna and the kids.” Pause. “Listen to me. I sound a complete lech. Longing for  a quick shag with a young woman. But it’s true .I really wanted her. But I also know I love my family.”

T. “I wonder, then, how you felt when your friend did destroy the dog?”

P. “I’m not sure. Terrified, mostly..”

T. “Terrified…”

P. “Yea. Terrified. One  minute there’s this bloody great dog in front  of us. Them it’s gone and my mate is lying on the ground. Not moving. I thought he was dead. Had a heart attack or something. I rang 999 and waited for an ambulance. They came and took us both to hospital. They said I was only suffering from shock but that my friend was very ill and they had admitted him. I rang  Anna and she came and picked me up. Her mum looked after the kids until we got home.”

T.”It sounds terrifying but that is the end of our session. I’ll see you next week


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

The Black Dog

black-dog I was talking with one my patients yesterday.  He came in,sat down and we exchanged the usual pleasantries. He was then quiet for several minutes.

“Where  are you?” I asked.

” I’m not sure. I feel a bit stuck.”

“Can you talk a bit more about this stuck feeling?”

“You’ll think I’m stupid if I tell you…”

“You’re feeling embarrassed …?” I suggested.

He sighed deeply. “I may as well tell you.”

He paused. I wondered  to myself what it was he was finding so difficult to talk about.

“Do you believe in ghosts?” he asked.

“Carry on” I replied. “Talk to me about ghosts.”

” I see one quite often. You know we’ve got a couple of dogs. A pair of Rottweilers. Lovely dogs. Soft as anything. But very protective of us as a family. I usually take them out for a walk early evening across the fields. Sarah puts the kids to bed whilst I walk our dogs. Takes about an hour there and back again. I come home, tuck the kids in and we have dinner. Recently I’ve gone out and come to the bit  where the filed goes into a lane. There’s a sort of gate you have to go through to get to the lane.” Here he paused again and shuffled in his chair, looking very uncomfortable. The pause lasted for several more minutes.

“You see to have gone away again ” I prompted. “Where are you?”

“I don’t know if I can do this. I saw this big black dog siting at the gate. Bloody great thing it was.Just sitting there. Big red eyes.Looked like something out of one  the kids books. My dogs just sat down and wouldn’t move. No matter how I pulled on the lead or anything.They were terrified. So was I. We didn’t hang around to see what it was. Just turned round and went back the way we’d come. I’ve never seen the dogs run like they did.  It took me about ten minutes to get them back. I called into the pub on the way back and had a drink to steady my nerves. I sent Sarah a text telling her where I was. Just so she didn’t worry. Anyway I got home  and told Sarah that something had spooked the dogs and that was why I was late…”

“So you didn’t tell her about the dog you saw?  Why not?”

” I don’t know really. I didn’t want to upset her. I’d half convinced myself that it was a trick of the light. I’m still not quite sure…”

“That sounds very real. Whatever it was happened obviously scared you and your dogs.” Pause. “And what do you think now?”

He sat quietly again and looked uncomfortable.  We sat in silence for a short while.

I wondered aloud if there was more to this story than he had so far managed to tell me. ”

” Yes, I told friends about this. One of them, Mike, is a bit of hard  man. He works on building sites. He was sceptical.”

‘I don’t believe in ghosts. Ain’t no such fucking thing’ was his response. He offered to come with me next time. I dearly wish he hadn’t. I feel so guilty.”

The clock had moved on and our 50 minutes was up. I was tempted to extend the session, following Lacan. But settled for keeping to my time.

” It sounds like there’s a lot more to explore in this story, Mike, but that will have to wait until our next session. I’ll see you next week at the same time.

I was tempted to make a comment about drinking less this week but forbore to be so unprofessional. As it was I was left feeling all manner of things. Confused, intrigued, annoyed. Not helped by the knowledge that I had a difficult patient in ten minutes time.

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

Computerised CBT

computerised-cbt-imgThis is an extract from a conversation between Anne, a 16 year old girl with M.E. and her computerised CBT programme. Anne is in her bedroom in front of her computer. she is making a first attempt at using the programme which is called James -for no apparent reason.

Anne types in http// http://www.anxietyanddepression/cbt/ login/

Anne “God. I could be dead by the time I’ve typed this in. But here goes. http//wwwanxietyanddepression/dbt/login/.”

She waits for several minutes for a reply.

James. “I’m sorry but I don’t recognise that instruction. Please try again.’

Anne “Fuck. What does it fucking want? Blood?

She tries again.
She waits again. Then

James. “You have reached http://www.anxietyanddepression. I am here to listen to you and help you resolve your difficulties. But first, for the sake of our record, please will you answer the following questions. Then we can proceed. Please type “Yes” or “No” to continue.

Anne types “Yes”

James “Thank you. This is the first question. What is your gender?”

Anne thinks. Then types “Bi.”

James “I’m sorry. I don’t recognise Bi. Please give your gender.”

Anne types in “Trans.”

James “I’m sorry I don’t recognise Trans. Please give your gender”
Anne swears again. Loudly and profanely using words she didn’t know she knew. But now does.
Anne “Sodding stupid programme. If I knew the answer to that question, I wouldn’t be here in the first place. So much for a non binary identity.” She types in “Female” Waits for a minute then types in “Female / Male.” She sits back and folds her arms.

Anne “Alright dickhead. Get out of that and still stay fashionable”

James “I’m sorry. I don’t recognise Female / Male. Please give your gender.”
Anne now takes a razor and begins scoring lines on her forearm. After a few minutes she is calm enough to return to the screen where James is waiting. She presses the Enter button and he comes to life. “Hello. You have reached http://www.anxietyanddepression. I am here to help you resolve your difficulties. But first for the sake of our records please will you answer the following questions…”

Anne “Christ! Not again. Where are my tablets?”

Anne looks in her bedside cabinet and begins counting.

“10 Valium. 20 Paracetamol. 15 Prozac .20 Mogadon.”
She then looks under her bed and brings out a bottle of Vodka. She  puts it on her bedside table and begins to swallow her tablets. She puts the bottle neatly back on her table and lied back comfortably. In a few minutes she is asleep. The  last voice she hears is


“You have reached http://www.anxietyanddepression…”

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

Revolutionary thoughts

7-_the_beatles_illustrated_lyrics_revolution_1968_by_alan_aldridge__iconic_images_alan_aldridgeI went to look at the “Revolution” exhibition at the V&A museum yesterday. “A rousing and pertinent excavation of the revolutionary spirit of the 1960’s”
I did think that the 60’s revolution seemed to meet fewer barriers than my journey to get to see it. First book my ticket on-line. This took at least three attempts since each time I typed in my card details they mysteriously morphed into something completely different on the screen. Eventually my computer and I agreed on a number. Stage one complete. Than go to the station, guessing at the time of the next London train. I guessed fairly well giving myself enough time for a cup of coffee. On to Marylebone where I spent another five minutes checking and double checking my route. Then 20 minutes on the tube, anxiously counting off each stop in case I was West not East or vice versa. (Which is quite ban apt metaphor for the whole 60’s scene.)

Eventually I got to the V&A where there was a statutory bag search. This completed I could go to the exhibition via the sculpture hall. Rodin and a host of other sculptors were on show. What fascinated me was how much they gave a sense of perspective and history. Rodin’s work (which always moves me) did not come out of nowhere. It stands in the context of thinking about how people are. What do our bodies say about us and the way in which society views us. This set the scene for me for the Revolution exhibition which was about change, development, values and perceptions. As well as great music, wonderful fashion and nostalgia! But most fascinating was seeing students in their 20’s making copious notes about the exhibits. What was so interesting about seeing Mary Quant’s dresses? Or reading about the posters about Vietnam war protests. This was my youth.That’s all. I was lucky enough to have been a teenager in the 60’s. My wife grew up in a later decade with different values which shaped her. But neither of us see our era as historically important to anyone except ourselves.

When I interview a new patient I always take a history going back to grandparents if they are remembered. Patterns emerge and when I comment on them my patients often looked surprised. “I hadn’t thought of it like that” is a frequent response. It’s also often the small details that can tell a lot. So one patient remarked almost in passing, that they had asthma as a child. I commented on this and wondered it might be a clue about their early experience of family life. They looked at me as if I had asked if they had been to Mars. But in the context of their history, this was a hint about some feelings of being unable to breathe sometimes. As George Santayana observed
“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So with this patient there were times when they felt being at home to be a suffocating experience. A pattern that repeated itself in their adult life.

So in taking a history I’m not merely asking out of curiosity. I’m asking to help me find a bridge between their past and their present. In the same way that “Revolution” was reached by history so much of my patients material is hinted at-indeed formed by-their early experience. So, I enjoyed the exhibition and found it odd to be an observer of my own history.But that is a good image for the work of counselling. It gives us a space to step outside ourselves and think about our history. As Eliot put it, “In my end is my beginning.” or that both time past and time present are, perhaps present in time future.”

Finally,a note on the link below. It is mainly an excuse to promote one of my favourite songs from my youth. But it also has something to say about revolutions which are as much an internal process as an external one.

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.