Containment 2

I want to continue the idea of containment. I have a softer image .One which speaks of the willingness to allow the other freedom. One which assumes that the recipient wants to be held and is attuned to that holding. I was reflecting today how pleasant it is not to have left a hospital admission in an angry mood. I can look back at my Wycombe experience with a sense of appreciation. The unit- the  staff- contained me. From here I could become content. The words have the same root which has links to the idea of a tenancy or a tenant. Someone who doesn’t own the property but who occupies it by mutual agreement.  The mother doesn’t own the baby. Nor does the baby own the breast. They agree to a shared tenancy.

One of several strands that shaped my feelings about my hospital admissions was a disappointment at the tenancy conditions. I had read the contract in a particular way. It included words like care, nurture, interest, compassion. The other party seemed to have a different tenancy agreement. One that included records, busyness, form filling, box ticking. By the time we had met, it was too late. We both made assumptions about the agreement that would contain us for the near future.

This image is all about being silenced. About a very particular form of containment that is far from desirable from the viewpoint of the individual. It speaks to me of a fear of allowing the other to speak and be heard. It is the way of the bully in any situation where they might be challenged. Be that Brexit, sexual harassment, the  outlawing of opposition parties in politics. Or the voice of the  prisoner or the patient. Theologically and spiritually the idea is the same. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah says “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (Isaiah 45:17) The Creation story in Genesis has a similar idea. God doesn’t only create Light. He creates Darkness-with all its implications. He offers darkness a containment which allows it to live.


Does God dream?

As a counsellor I’m always interested in my patients’ dreams. Freud called them the Royal Road to the Unconscious. I also have an interest in theology and spirituality. A conversation recently left me mentally combining the two and asking “Does God dream?”  Behind that there’s another question “Does God have an unconscious life?” 

In clinical practice I use unconscious material a lot. We think about my patients’ dreams. The Soto vocce asides they make. (In psychosis these are experienced as “voices”. They are a similar phenomenon. Communications that are only partially meant to be publicised.)

The unconscious seems to be akin to the Cloud. It is an undiscriminating storage space with limitless capacity, password protected and safe from external interference. ( I confess to understanding the unconscious far better than the Cloud!)   My other premise is that we are told that Man is made in the image of God. Logically, this should lead us to the thought that God has an unconscious life.

But what is stored in the unconscious? Predominantly those parts of ourselves we deem unacceptable. Those parts that Jung calls our Shadow. We hide our racist thoughts here; our sexual fantasies; our murderous and hateful feelings. And so on. How do we know we have these thoughts? Catch yourself the next time someone cuts you up when driving. Or has the temerity to queue jump. Or to say or do something that leaves you feeling patronised and not-seen.
So where does this leave God? Where does an omnipotent being hide his Shadow? Jung suggests He hides it in plain sight. He uses projection. Brexit seems to me to be a current example. All our social, political and economic woes are due to Brussels. And immigrants. And any “previous government.” Looking inside ourselves is anathema. Who knows what we might find?

Jung suggests that God put all His shadow into Satan, also a son of his. But one who for a number of reasons was not his father’s favourite.  A dynamic not unknown in ordinary non divine families! So any thought or idea that Yahweh couldn’t tolerate was given to Satan to own. (The NetFlix series “Lucifer” plays with this idea very perceptively and amusingly. A kind of “theology lite”!)
If God went into Psychoanalysis we could explore his unconscious life. Which might make many things clear – not least Him!


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…”