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

3D Chess

I tweeted recently that counselling often feels like playing chess. With multiple boards in multiple dimensions. With multiple players. As a counsellor I spend a lot of time with my patients trying to work out which piece belongs to which game. (In which dimension!) Chaos theory tells us that a butterfly stamping its foot in Brazil can cause an earthquake in Cumbria.

Chess is often used as a metaphor for politics. If I make this move now, what will be the long term consequences for my game? If I sacrifice my Knight here, will that eventually allow me a strategic victory in 50 moves time. We call this board sight. A good player reaches a level where they can read a board intuitively. Or at least a certain number of moves ahead.  It’s a skill we all develop in our career, if we stay long enough. A good teacher develops a sense of what might help a child. A good manager learns to read their team. A nurse develops a sixth sense about their patient.

What is seen so often in my counselling room is a patient who has no broad sight. They move a piece almost randomly,  with little understanding of how this will affect the rest of their game. A Bishop is given up here, a Knight there.  This pattern gets repeated game after game. And they are unable to work out why this is happening.chess-board

A chess game is just a chess game. We can always decide to take up Scrabble or Table Tennis. It doesn’t matter much. Real life is more serious. When I assess a new patient their stories have a sadly familiar ring to them. The woman who has anxiety problems. Her mother was the same. As was her Grandmother. The man who is violent and has problems controlling his anger. His father was angry and violent. As was his Grandfather. People often come to me when they see the  pattern repeating in their children. It is not uncommon for a husband or wife to be the driving force in someone seeking counselling. Their behaviour in the family is causing problems and difficulties.

Any single chess game can be complicated enough. As well as challenging, demanding and enjoyable if one knows what is happening. Or at least knows how to think about thinking about.  When it is real life and the individual has no idea about the game they are involved in, this terror is compounded when it seems that another game somewhere else is affecting the current one. My grandfather’s game from eighty years ago can still affect the moves I make now,  particularly if he is still playing it out through and in me.  Messages about how women should behave, what a man should or should not be able to do, these are alive today, impacting on my life today. Suddenly I find myself moving my pawn to that square for no apparent reason. Regardless of the risk to that piece.
chess-boardIn my counselling  I work with people who have some awareness of their lack of board sight. What frightens me are the politicians who wish to use their power to play out a game they don’t know. We don’t know the impact of Brexit. I don’t know the  impact of the recent USA elections.  The increased popularity of the far Right feels like a chess game played with real people. Real people are and will be hurt.

I wonder if Theresa May and Donald Trump want an In-House therapist?



Reflective Practice, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being

The Referendum

EU-referendum-ballot-paper-i am well aware of the multitude of words already written about the Referendum and its result. I am not going to attempt another political analysis. But since it has come into my counselling room this week, I thought I’d try and offer some thoughts about the psychological impact the result is having. Albeit on only a small and unrepresentative sample i.e.  those people who are currently in therapy with me. One of my patients reported a dream on the Saturday night following the Referendum. He dreamt he was in the middle of a nuclear bomb exploding and he frantically tried to protect his family. It didn’t seem to need too much analysis to link this dream to his response to the Referendum. Suddenly the world had become a less safe place.

Other patients have reported how unsafe and insecure they now feel in a world where their future feels more than usually uncertain. There have been tears and anger. In several cases these feelings  have resurrected earlier feelings of loss and abandonment. The psychiatrist R.D. Laing tells the story of a mother who held her young child by his ankles from a balcony several hundred feet from the ground. “See how much I love you, ” she comments, “I don’t let you go.” I’m not sure how the child received the message but one can’t imagine it was an enjoyable experience. Somebody observed that it sounded as though the mother was reassuring herself of her love for her child. And for the child parts of herself with whom she may have had an uneasy relationship.

For  many the success of the Brexit campaign feels rather like this mother. It’s an odd and dangerous way to express their love. But their love for whom? I heard the report of a former soldier in floods of tears at the result. “At last, I’ve got my country back.” I was left wondering about his view of his country. He seemed to be describing a different world to the one I inhabit.

The psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, following Freud, came up with the idea of the Paranoid-Schizoid position in which the young baby has to create two mummies. The Good mummy who attends to his every need at all times. And the bad mummy who fails him. This mummy keeps him waiting for a feed or a nappy change or attention. As he grows older the child has to reconcile the two mummies. The good mother is also the bad one, and vice versa. I find myself wondering if something similar is happening with the Brexit victory. That there is a wish to banish the nasty mummy who allows outsiders to take our jobs, steal our homes, fill up our G.P.’s surgeries and so on. And by extension to banish the vulnerable and needy parts of  ourselves.

My final quote is from Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming’. It needs no commentary.

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer:

Things fall apart: the centre cannot hold:

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”