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


There was  a discussion recently on Facebook about a newly found translation of the KJV bible. The academic involved claimed that this new manuscript showed how much of the text had been edited to support particular political doctrines and ideas. The discussion that followed was, inevitably, about the  nature of biblical authority. Is it a case of “God said it. I believe it. That settles it”? Or a case of  “The words of God in the words of man”? The discussion lasted a few days  before moving on to something else. Probably a discussion about giant pandas or the Amazon rain forest.  At the same time a Quaker friend wrote a piece about certainty and religious faith.  She had disagreed with somebody who had wanted it to be the case that faith banished doubt. My friend’s point was that this was not the purpose of faith. Its task is to provide a framework to think about life and its vicissitudes, not to provide an answer to every conundrum. It is a familiar and important argument.

In his paper “Mourning and Melancholia” Freud commented that in mourning what was important was not whom someone had lost, but what. This thought has stayed with me. I spent my 20’s and 30’s  defining myself as Christian, albeit in varying ways – but mostly Evangelical. (That wish for certainty was pervasive.) Then I began psychotherapy and allowed myself to look behind some of my locked doors. What did I think about Jesus, the Church, Evangelicalism, things Charismatic etc? I discovered that I thought all sorts of things that I hadn’t allowed myself to think! Now in my 60’s I am happily agnostic as far as religious faith is concerned. I’m probably agnostic about many things. It’s a position I feel very comfortable with. It’s particularly helpful as a counsellor where I spend much of my time simply holding someone in my mind. I choose to suspend judgement about almost everything. One of my patients commented,”This feels so weird. It’s the only place where I don’t have to defend what I say or think. You’re just interested in the fact that I do think such and such.” My experience of therapy from both sides of the couch is that this is the only stance one can take. The only certainty is that there is no certainty, which makes this work so rich and rewarding. On a good day. On a bad day a small part of me longs to be back in my warm fundamentalist womb being effortlessly nourished by a divine umbilical cord. But we are not meant to spend our lives in any kind of womb. We are meant to be outside exploring and discovering. Endlessly asking “Why”

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.

Psychoanalysis, Reflective Practice, Schizophrenia, The Inner World, Ways of Being

My new phone

Ui phone 5The picture is of the latest iPhone- iPhone 5. Usually I neither know nor care about a  phone. I want it to work. To be fit for purpose. My current phone does all the things that I want and many more things that I don’t. Until two weeks ago I had no opinion about 3G or 4G, this network or that one. Whether my phone was 2 mls thick or 3 mls thick. My nephew will ask me “Is that an iPhone 4 or 5?” I shrug my shoulders and say “Sorry. I have no idea!” The look on his face tells me this cannot be. How can I not know which phone I use? All this changed two weeks ago. I had a text telling me my new phone was ready. In two more weeks I could collect my next phone. After 18 months of waiting my life was about to change. Suddenly I knew about iPhone 5, iPhone 5c or iPhone 5s. I knew that 4G was a potentially superior network to 3G. I could stream videos much more quickly. Use less bandwidth. Get faster downloads. Amazing! (I still have a week to go before committing  myself. I can have my new phone now but I pay nearly £30 extra for the privilege. But it would give me access to the current best deals on the market. i decided that I would I keep my £30, take my chance with the market and wait for a whole seven days.)

What has this to do with counselling? Something about Engagement and Ownership, I think. When I was nursing it felt as though most of my patents were done unto. They were recipients of care. They had some say about what happened to them. But not a lot. They could choose to take their medication. Or not. They could keep appointments. Or not. Beyond this there was not too much choice. (Despite the rhetoric, I’m not sure how much has really changed in the last decade. A few new drugs have been patented. A few new “illnesses” have been invented to be the recipient of the new drugs. But fundamentally, little changes.) Contrast this with my phone. I have a choice. I can choose from a range of phones. A range of tariffs. A range of networks. I am getting two or three phone calls a day from Carphone Warehouse telling me I am eligible for an upgrade. I am engaged in the process of choice. My opinion matters – albeit briefly! When I make my choice, I shall know that I had a choice. (If anyone from Carphone warehouse is reading this, I am still open to offers!)

I was talking recently about something that I’d heard in a cafe. A woman was saying “I had Anorexia when I was younger.” My companion pointed out the problem with this sentence. It denied ownership. The speaker gave the impression of being the unfortunate recipient of an illness. Rather as we quite reasonably say “I’ve caught a cold from somewhere. Probably work. There’s a lot of it around at the moment.” Emotional difficulties do not get “caught”. We do not catch schizophrenia. Or depression. Or anxiety. We are them. They are part of who we are. How we have been brought up. The messages we heard as children. Our current circumstances. The whole of our personality is involved with our mental health problems. And the answer lies in the same place. T.S. Eliot asked “Where does one go from a world of insanity? Somewhere on the other side of despair.” But at least one can be reached in despair. We knows we are in need  when we are in despair. All our other attempts at defence have broken down. We have to engage with that part of ourselves. (This is the danger of the language of medicine. We are given antidepressants to remove the illness “depression”. Far better to have time to sit with a therapist and take ownership of the reasons for our depression. That way we are engaged in something creative.)

Unlike my new phone contract,  most people with emotional difficulties will not be phoned five times a day to remind them of what is on offer for them. (Although we could see the messages from one part of our psyche to another as a malevolent equivalent in many cases. Thus a psychoanalytic view of suicide which sees suicide as an answer to the conflict between different “selves”.  The link is to Freud’s paper Mourning and Melancholia where he writes about depression and suicide.…/Freud_MourningAndMelancholia.)

My wife has just looked over my shoulder, read this piece and observed “It’s more complicated than  you usually write. It’s good. But you have to think about it more.” I suppose that sums up the whole idea of user involvement. At a professional level, it is more than just inviting a couple of patients along to a committee meeting once a month. (The technical term  might be “tokenism”. At a personal  level, user involvement requires the “user” to engage with all their parts. Which is complicated. But interesting.