Counselling, Dragons, Dreams, Hope, Narratives, Psychoanalysis, Reflective Practice, Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being

The shape of things

I have just watched “The Shape of Water” Guillermo de Torro’s new film. I was initially rather baffled by what I thought of it. Lush, lovely, moving, interesting but how did the various themes fit together. How to reconcile the central love story between the mute janitor, Elsa, and the Creature and the back story of the Cold War. What I began to understand was what happens when Difference is encountered. Be that the difference between  spoken words and sign language:between Gay and Straight or East and West. In each of these cases, de Torro shows how much we fear the Other. From this fear comes  a wish to destroy and kill it because we do not trust what we do not understand.  De Torro’s film shows what happens when someone is willing to take a chance and trust the Other. (What follows is at first a kind of death but from this comes Life.)

As a counsellor I was also struck by how profoundly true de Torro’s film is in relation to the inner world. We fear the unknown in ourselves. When a patient brings a dream to a session it is fascinating to see where this takes us. (Dreams being the royal road to the unconscious,, as Freud put it.) Give time and space to think about the dream and its possible meaning and much rich material is gleaned from the unconscious. Material which can be upsetting and unnerving at times, leaving one thinking,  “Is this really me? I don’t want to have to see this as part of me. It is so far from the Me I think I know.”  (This recognition is one of the themes of de Torro’s film.) Yet until we can see, know and accept those hidden parts of ourselves, we are not really able to live fully or so it seems to me!

Another of Freud’s dictums was that the point of psychoanalysis was to bring into consciousness the unconscious which allows us to think about it and understand it. (Thereby detoxifying it.) This willingness to accept the Other is often achieved at some cost. It can be a  shock to be presented with a part of ourselves that like Torre’s creature, seems utterly different to us. Yet take the risk and meet it, and new worlds open up.


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, Madness, Narratives, Psychoanalysis, Psychosis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being

The Black Dog


This is the last part of the story of the Black Dog of Aylesbury as told me by one of my patients.. It’s a frightening story and easy to dismiss as the product of too much alcohol or other dubious substance. But my patient made it very clear that he was absolutely sober.  I believe him. So, what to make of this story? Jung would view the Black dog as an archetypal figure raising from a shared unconscious. Not being a Jungian, I chose to interpret this story as a kind of waking dream. Dreams being  seen as the Royal Road to the unconscious by Freud. In the earlier blogs  I’ve spoken about one view of what this event might have meant for my patient. I now want to look at how we might understand what happened to his friend. (Although like all therapy sessions, this might take longer than initially planned.)

In the story my patient and his friend both go out to challenge the dog. The friend beats it up and it vanishes. But the consequence of this is that he goes in to a kind of coma and is hospitalised. At the time I was seeing my patient his friend had been like this for several months.

“What do you think happened, Terry?” my patient asked.

This was not a question I knew how to answer in simple terms. In fact the whole saga stretched me to my emotional and intellectual limits. I found, and still find, the whole event disturbing. Here is a summary of what i suggested to my patient.

What did he know about trench blindness, for example? Or of soldiers who developed paralysis in their hands when it came to shooting a rifle. He said he’d vaguely heard of this idea.

“Weren’t they seen as skivers or cowards and either shot or court marshalled? Or both?” he asked.

“Yes, that was often what happened. Psychological thinking wasn’t very sophisticated in the forces in those days.”

“So”, asked my patient, “what does this have to do with the dog? It was real. We both saw the damned thing.”

I took a deep breath and started.

“I think something like this happened. Both of you wanted to visit this woman at the end of the lane. Both of you wanted to have sex with her. Both of you were stopped by this dog. This dog represented the bit of you that felt guilty about this. You wanted this woman but also knew that you had a family at home whom you loved. The dog ‘worked’. It kept you faithful-which you wanted it to.”

I paused.

“I sort of get that.” said my patient. “You’re saying I invented this dog to stop me from doing something dangerous like having sex with this woman.”

“That’s close enough .I’m not sure I’d use the word ‘invented’ but that’s pretty much what I’m suggesting.”

I went on to suggest that the dog had served its purpose. (We rarely ‘state’ or ‘tell’ as therapists. We ‘suggest’. We ‘muse’.  There are all sorts of reasons for this…) It had given him a  chance to think about what he was doing. To decide that he wanted to keep his marriage, home, family etc. In a sense the dog was no longer needed by him.

“OK. I see that and it’s true. Mostly.I did want to keep my marriage more than I wanted to have sex with this woman. But, it would have  been fun finding out …”

“Agreed. It might have been. We don’t know what else you might have found out.

We left this thought hanging and returned to his friend. And since that is the end of our time for today, the story of the friend will have to wait for another session.

Counselling, Madness, Narratives, Psychoanalysis, Reflective Practice, Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being

Whose dream?

I was talking with someone recently.We were talking about Christmas. They commented that it was downhill now until Easter. They meant, I think, in term of the Churches’ calendar. I nodded and we carried on our conversation. But something nagged at me about this view. Then I remembered the story of the Massacre of  the Infants by Herod which is recorded only by Matthew. The story is that the Magi call on Herod first asking where they can find the new king. Herod knows nothing of this but asks them to come back to him when they have found him :”that I may come and worship him also.” They are warned in a dream not to return to Herod who when he realises this orders the slaughter of all children under the age of two. We next read that Joseph also has a dream telling him to flee into Egypt to protect his family from Herod. This he duly does and we hear nothing more of them until Joseph is told in yet another a dream not to go back to Judea.Following this dream the family go back to Galilee and we hear no more of them until Jesus is baptised by John the Baptist which marks the official launch of his mission.

It’s an interesting story. Angels, visions, dreams, Magi, refugees and so on.  Many things worry me about it but it is the dreams that most intrigue me. If I were still a “bible believing Christian” I might be happy to accept that God spoke to people in dreams. As a psychodynamic counsellor I understand dreams rather differently to Matthew. I see them as our unconscious nudging us to attend to something important. We give ourselves our dreams. (Always an uncomfortable thought!) Freud wrote “By exposing the hidden dream-thoughts, we have confirmed in general that the dream does continue the motivation and interests of waking life, for dream-thoughts are engaged only with what seems to be important and of great interest to us.” (The Interpretation of Dreams :1900)

If we could allow Joseph to free associate about his dreams, it would be fascinating to see what came out. I imagine most potential parents dream about their new baby. Dreams about its safe delivery and concerns about its future. Thoughts about its impact on the couple and the family.We might wonder about some ambivalence on Joseph’s part. This new baby has caused him more than the usual amount of trouble. A Virgin conception, visits from Royalty, the envy of the Governor, time in exile, mass murder as a consequence of this baby. And all before its first birthday. That’s quite a lot to take on. So perhaps Herod isn’t the only man who feels murderous towards this infant. Joseph’s dream tells us as much about his inner world as the story does about Herod’s. We might wonder if Joseph’s “flight dream” is also about his own wish to run away  to a place where nothing is known about him. He can remain anonymous and live his life quietly.

All this is pure speculation on my part. I have no idea about Joseph’s dream-thoughts. We have no record of them. But the alternative is that God is a mass murderer. Or at least chooses to do nothing about the actions of Herod. We don’t have a record of how many babies were killed by Herod’s soldiers. We don’t know how many families were devastated by the murder of their children. But God appears unbothered by this. His interest is solely in the preservation of His own- making him no different from Herod. Perhaps my next blog will explore what we might understand of God’s unconscious.