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.





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.

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.