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.
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.
In 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?