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

Beauty and the Beast

 For Kevin who very helpfully suggested that I write this particular blog. I hope it meets with your approval!


I recently went and watched the current version of Beauty and the Beast, directed by Bill Condon. I loved it. I’m always willing to be seduced by a romance. This film ticked all the boxes as far as I was concerned. Love, passion, pain, denial, deceit, justice and a few more issues en route. what was not to like? I hesitated for about two weeks before allowing myself to go and see it. I didn’t have an accompanying child and was genuinely concerned about how  I might be seen going to this film as a man by myself. In the end I gathered up my courage  and went to see it-half expecting to be asked to produce my CRB certificate. I wasn’t!

The story lends itself to various interpretations .One is see it as a narrative about Stockholm syndrome Another reads it as a  feminist story. Another as a psychoanalytic account. Or even as “just” a fairy tale!   All of which can be laid onto the story. As Bruno Bettelheim wrote “… fairy tales carry important messages to the conscious, the preconscious and the unconscious  mind, on whatever level each is functioning.”  (The Uses of Enchantment 1975)  . For this blog, I want to write  about it from a psychoanalytic perspective. I want to take a Kleinian view and think about the ways in which both Beauty and the Beast have to come to terms with parts of themselves they have previously denied. And the consequences for both themselves and others if they fail to achieve this understanding.

I think one of the many things that is going on in this story is that both Beauty and the Beast have to recognise themselves in the other.

Initially they both deny the Other in themselves. Beauty hates the Beast for holding her captive.  But we all know that hatred brings with it  a host of other feelings. Rage, anger, fury, and a wish for vengeance, the capacity for similar cruelty. (ISIS amongst others is demonstrating this so clearly. The victim is capable of as much cruelty as the perpetrator.) In the early part of the story, Beauty can protect herself from her beastliness by projecting it into the Beast, who is a willing recipient of these feelings-for reasons of his own.  For the Beast the challenge is to risk accessing  his own vulnerability and allow himself to become loving and caring. To see in himself the parts of himself owned by Beauty. In so doing he has to risk rejection. There is no guarantee that Beauty will love him or see anything in him beyond  his beast self. Both have a vested interest in not changing. Barrack Obama caught this idea in his comment “Change  will not come if we for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Unfortunately it is not only Beauty and the Beast who are trapped in the castle. Others are also involved and trapped by the spell that binds the Beast. They can only find freedom if the Beast learns to love. The metaphor is not difficult to see! But it remains true in the inner world. Until we learn to love and be loved, many aspects  of our personality are frozen. Ironically the converse is true. If we never learn about our hatred what meaning is there to our love? (This is where I struggle somewhat with the gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion etc. We are  never shown his anger about what is happening to him. He is presented only as a suffering servant whose task is to fulfil someone else’s mission at considerable cost to himself. Most carers admit to knowing the shadow side of their caring self. Jesus is portrayed as having no shadow, certainly by the gospel accounts of is life.)

For both Beauty and the Beat, their responses will affect the future of others. (Whenever someone comes to me for counselling with a history of violence I invariably assume a family history of violence.  It is much the same  with anxiety. The anxious woman sitting in my room nearly always  comes from a line of worried women. Generations pass on their damage to the next one.)

In the end, both Beauty and the Beast take a risk. The result is health and wholeness for all parties. But it was a long journey! 



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.



Counselling, Reflective Practice, Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, Ways of Being

He is risen?

RisenChristI am writing this piece on Easter Sunday. The day when Christ rose from the dead, according to Christian tradition. The implications of this vary widely, depending on one’s emotional and theological make up. For some it means that our sind have been forgiven. That Eternal life is now available to us if we accept the gift that Christ’s death make available to us. We give our hearts to him and he makes sharers in his Risen life. (Not accepting this gift means that we spend all this life and the next separated from God-and all that might follow from that state.) Another version is that Christ’s death shows us that God is not sitting in Heaven remote and untouched by humanity’s struggles. The death of Christ shows us that God knows about suffering and walks the road with us. These are two of the many shades of meaning attached to the Easter story. Which version one chooses is, I think, shaped as much by personality as by reason.

I have no idea what happened on the original Easter Sunday. Nor do I know what implications follow from that. I spent too many years following the traditional evangelical line that I was a sinner who was bound for hell unless I accepted Christ as my personal saviour. I worked very hard at believing that doctrine. I was successful at it.I’ve preached on street corners; witnessed; given out tracts; cast out demons; spoken in tongues,prayed and prophesied. And kept quiet about those “But…” questions. Then I went into therapy and had a chance to ask all those questions. And find my own answers. Which meant that I left all those evangelical certainties and have never come back to them. So, I too have my own empty tomb and am left wondering what happened to the body I buried there.

In 1892 Martin Kahler coined the phrase “The Jesus of history and the Christ of Faith”. As with any phrase, Kahler’s original meaning has been changed over the years. I want to add my own interpretation here. I offer a psychological interpretation.  To think about our own “historical Jesus”. The parts of us that are not divine. The ordinary everyday us who was born, lives, goes about mundane daily life. We can date when we were born.Where and to whom. We know about our growing up, going to university, marrying, having children etc. All the usual activities of daily living. We have good days and bad days. Times when we are sad. Times when we are happy. Ordinary everyday lives. The Christ of Faith belongs to those parts of us that dream dreams. See visions. Choose to Hope. When I worked in a Therapeutic Community we always had a good-bye tea when someone left after their year. We made much of it because it was a new beginning as well as an ending. Good Friday and Easter Day. In standard psychiatric units this ending is not marked. A decision is made and the patient is discharged. There is no ceremony to mark the event.There is no discovery of something different or new. Nor any chance to mourn what has been left behind.

If our ordinary lives might represent the Jesus of history, where does the Christ of faith fit? For me, the Christ event is found in moments of change. The moment in therapy when one feels understood. Or when as a therapist something makes sense about a patient. From this understanding, new work can start. A Christ event occurs.A different future can begin. Equally Christ events occur when all we see is Good Friday with its suffering. “My God, why have you forsaken me?” It is an act of faith to believe that there is an end to pain. To dare to hope that a resurrection is possible. Holding this hope is also the task of the therapist. I remember working for a long time with one patient whose childhood had been grim but who refused to mourn what he had lost. “I’m not going to be a fucking victim” was his catch phrase. He defended against this by presenting an air of contempt for everyone. The Christ event occurred when he allowed himself to acknowledge the hurt and vulnerable aspects of himself. This cost him many tears. From this point new life was possible. But I had to keep the hope. To believe that change was possible, even though it frequently seemed a forlorn hope.

These are my Easter thoughts. They are a long way from my early fundamentalism. But the pleasure of my current thinking is that it fits. It belongs to me. I can live with a Jesus of history and a Christ of Faith. I have to since I know too well the cost of trying to be someone else. Words from Eliot’s poem “The Journey of the Magi” come to mind.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

I will leave to the last words to the choir of King’s college, Cambridge singing one of my favourite Easter hymns.




Easter Eggs 2

ImageI don’t usually write two blogs on the same day. Writing one weekly usually takes enough effort, But I have the time at the moment and I don’t think Easter Eggs 1 makes too much sense on its own. In “Eggs 1” I wrote about a sermon I listened to on Easter Sunday. the core message was that Kinder eggs represented Christianity better than an ordinary one because the former eggs always had a gift inside them whilst ordinary Easter eggs were empty. From there I suggested that Easter could be understood in psychological terms as well as religious ones. In this blog I want to take that idea on further and then go off at tangent to think about cave paintings and the Easter tomb- improbable though that link may seem!

When the preacher spoke about the empty Easter eggs I found myself making an association to the walls of the tomb where Jesus was buried. My association was to cave paintings. The walls of Jesus’ tomb would have made a good surface for some cave paintings. 

The exact meaning of these paintings is unknown but the consensus seems to be that they wee some form of communication-although quite what was being communicated is unclear. Were the scenes depicted simply a primitive piece of graffiti? Were they linked to some kind of myth ritual? Or were they an expression of creativity? Or a combination of all these? Whatever they are, they are a moving and awesome record of the lives of our ancestors.

In my fantasy I wanted to use the walls of the Jerusalem tomb as a canvass for current  wall paintings. I envisaged people painting their current concerns. Homelessness. Abuse. Violence.Depression. Along with Joy and Fun and Dancing and Celebration. I wanted it to be this particular tomb because the story has it that Jesus rose from the dead and, ultimately, ascended to Heaven where, we are told, he sits at the right hand of God the Father. From which position he will judge the living and the dead. It seems to me that these fantasised cave paintings should also be taken up to Heaven and given a place of value and exaltation.It seems to me that the woman who has to have an abortion is celebrated and her mourning validated. That the young man with a violent and abusive father should have his struggle with his anger celebrated. The woman who hears voices that often denigrate her should have a place ” on High”. Along with all those who daily live their lives trying to be as alive as they can. These are the wall paintings I want painted on the walls of Jesus’ tomb. Because these are the daily lives that surrounded him and which deserve to be celebrated.

In her novel, The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy writes “And the air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. Big Things lurk unsaid inside” I want these cave paintings to celebrate all those Small Things-and, of course, all the Big Things lurking unsaid.




Counselling, Mindfullness, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, Spirituality, The Inner World, Ways of Being

Empty Easter Eggs 1

I went to church on Easter Sunday. I think the preacher had been told to make his sermon child friendly. His visual aids were several different Easter Eggs. He tried to make some sort of spiritual point about each of them. (I shall now view Cadbury’s Creme Eggs in a different light!) His main point was to take a Kinder Surprise egg and an ordinary one. He tried to show that an ordinary egg was not a good illustration of spirituality because it was empty. The Kinder egg, however, was a better one because it always contained a surprise. This he suggested was a picture of Christianity. It always holds a surprise inside itself. (I’m not too sure about this picture of religion but…)

Despite myself I was struck by his two images. I was, however, more struck by the “empty” egg and its possibilities. (At this point I am going to get “religious”-or perhaps”spiritual” is a better word.)

I found myself conflating two ideas from this sermon. Or perhaps three. One was the idea of emptiness. Specifically the emptiness of an Easter egg. This reminded me of the empty tomb of the Easter story, which we are told signifies Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and his eventual ascension to heaven. (All of which find echoes in psychological language.) I then played with what might have been painted on the walls of the tomb. (Hence the picture of cave paintings.) Finally I had an idea of these images “rising” with Christ into some new life, having been redeemed. (Again I think all these words have a resonance beyond their specifically Christian context.) Hopefully I will make my point in the rest of this piece-and probably in another one as well.

The Christian meaning given to the Easter event is that Christ’s death and  resurrection are a means- the means?- by which our sins are forgiven and we are able to be at one with God and ourselves. Implicit also in the narrative and subsequent commentaries is the idea that we can choose whether or not to accept this offer. If we do, the story goes, our lives will be richer. We will be made whole. If we choose not accept the offer, then we risk losing out on many levels. (And depending on how cruel one’s God is, this loss extends through all our temporal life and into eternity where we will have plenty of time to regret our choices. Or to delight that we made the “right” choice.)

At this point I want to suggest some obvious emotional parallels here. Many individuals and communities know what it is to have suffered at other’s hands-and feet. And guns. And machetes. And assorted other methods of abuse, both physical and psychological.  The image of a man  hung, naked and helpless on a cross is one graphic way to encapsulate suffering.

In psychological terms Easter seems to suggest that we have choices. That, with help, suffering can become a spur to wholeness. That trauma, whilst not to be forgotten, can be used creatively. Most of my patients come to me because they want to find a way to make sense of their past. And to try to find a more healthful future for themselves. Their past hurts and abuses are not forgotten. Nor ignored. They bring these pasts into every session one way and another. And part of the work is to try to redeem these pasts. to detoxify them. which seems to me to be one way to understand the Easter story. It is a detoxification narrative.cave painting


ImageI  bought some Easter eggs yesterday. I used the self service check out and was surprised to have an alert come on the screen. I wondered what was in this egg that needed me to be approved by a member of staff. (The alert was triggered by my having bought an Easter egg which contained alcohol. Specifically some chocolates that had a small amount of Bailey’s liqueur in them. I assume that the actual alcohol content was so minimal as to be almost non existent.)

I mention this to highlight what seems to have become a feature of life these days. The ubiquitous Risk Assessment. Three cornered flap jacks are now banned because a child was hurt when one was thrown at him in a food fight in a school canteen. (All sorts of questions come to mid here. Where were the teachers? Why were these kids having a food fight? who won?) We hear of conker fights being banned because of a risk that someone might get hurt if one breaks. (I always thought that breaking one’s opponent’s conker was the point of the game!)

I teach psychiatric nursing and nurses and was in clinical practice for twenty years before that. I have seen the rise of the Risk Assessment mind set. It now dominates the thinking of most all the nurses and students I meet. I recently did a role play exercise with a group of mental health  nursing students. I was working with a student who was playing a patient who was hearing voices. In the course of our conversation I responded to the feelings he was sharing  with me. I commented on his feelings of shame and exclusion. “You sound as though you feel like a leper”. “Yes” he said, “that’s just how i feel.” I finished the role play and asked the class for their thoughts. One student put his hand up “Terry. You called him a  leper. Aren’t you worried that he’ll report you?” I was lost as to how to reply. When did using a simile in counselling become a reportable offence? Or any kind of offence? And what had this student seen and heard that he could worry about my use of language? (I use a lot of “language” in my lectures. This was the first time a student had ben bothered my choice of words.)

The psychoanalyst Jo Berke says of Risk “To be at risk is to be alive. At any moment the consequence of being alive entails sudden unforeseen changes which may enhance or endanger health”  (Berke 2003) Arthur Ransome’s more often quoted quip “Better drowned than duffers. If not duffers won’t drown.” has the same idea.

A year ago i had a bad cycling accident ( entirely my own fault!) in which i broke my wrist in four places and  also my hip. Getting back on my bike has been a long, slow process. The physical side was relatively easy involving exercises, work from an excellent physio and a determination to get my body back in shape. The fear was much harder to overcome. Every time i went round a corner, saw a pothole or felt a bump, my mind and body took me straight back to my crash. My instinct was to pull on my brakes as hard as possible and get off and walk.  One session with a hypnotherapist and a trauma workshop has me back riding. (I still get more anxious than pre crash but at least I can manage this anxiety.)

My point is that it is surprisingly easy – and logical- to want to avoid risk. Having had a very bad fall, nobody would blame me for giving up cycling and taking up dominoes. Or golf. Or something relatively safe. But I would know that i was not making a choice. My choice was being made for me. By fear. By anxiety. By loss of confidence. My world would have shrunk.  Fortunately, I have enough good objects inside to provide me with the resources to get back to Life.

No doubt Tesco want to prevent me from a future of alcohol abuse by putting a warning on their Easter egg. My student who was concerned that he might be  reported for risking a vivid image. But where does this lead us? To clinical work that is insipid and “safe”. To patients being failed because nurses have internalised a  highly critical censor. 

I am aware, also, of writing this blog in what we call Holy Week. The story of the crucifixion, however we understand it, seems to me to be at the very least a story about Risk.