Psychotherapy is also known as ‘the talking cure’. However, people often ask ‘how can talking about something help? It doesn’t actually change anything, does it?’
Well, actually, talking about what bothers us, what hurts, what is difficult to come to terms with, can help. It can help in that when we talk with someone who really listens, we are no longer alone with it, as we can share what is going on inside us without fear of being judged or being told what to do.
The value of being listened to in this way is not to be underestimated. Left alone, our thoughts may go round in ever decreasing circles that lead nowhere except stagnation and depression. But once we truly share what we think, feel and experience there is the possibility of the ‘new’ or, as it is sometimes called, ‘news of difference’. When this happens people may say ‘I’ve never thought of it like that before’. It means that we look at ourselves from a different angle and consequently find ourselves telling a different story.
We can change the stories we tell ourselves and thus change our lives.
For more on the power of story see this video of Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie: http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html
To read more about ‘news of difference see Bateson, G (1972) Steps to an Ecology of Mind. London: Paladin.
As I walked in the snow-covered park I came across a group of young people building an igloo. Some were busy filling black plastic recycling boxes with snow; others picked up the boxes and carried them over to someone inside the structure who carefully placed this latest block in position. No one appeared to be in charge, yet they worked perfectly as a team. When people enjoy what they do, I thought, they don’t need someone to oversee or manage them; they just get on with it.
Apart from teamwork, snow also clearly brings out creativity and playfulness in people as more and more snowmen and snow sculptures appeared in the park. I came across one snowball so large and heavy that it must have taken at least four people to move it. Perhaps, I mused, the different perspective on the world afforded by snow gives us permission to play, have fun and try things out, without a care for what others may think or whether it is a useful or sensible thing to do. Most of the sculptures I saw must have taken quite a bit of effort and time to create – yet none of them will last. We all know that snow will melt – in this part of the world sooner rather than later.
But that does not matter, when the snow is here now, in this moment, we can allow ourselves to enjoy it and have fun. What’s more, being creative and working with others is therapeutic in itself; it reconnects us with the innocent child inside us, the part that wants to relate, have fun and play. It also integrates the two sides of our brain – the left side that is concerned with rationality, and the right side that is concerned with creativity, emotion, intuition and forming relationships.
A good book to read on this subject is:
Iain McGilchrist ‘s The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.
See a review of the book at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jan/02/1
(I heard Iain McGilchrist speak in Bristol last year; he was absolutely fascinating).
When I got up the other morning the world was transformed by a blanket of thick snow. No one appeared to have gone out in it yet and everything looked pristine and beautiful. Walking among the trees and shrubs in the park felt magical and I just had to take some photos, as I wanted to share all this beauty. It was still early, so most of the snow was still completely untouched and my footsteps were the first to appear.
When I came back to the same area a few hours later I noticed that several paths had appeared in the snow that already looked well trodden. This reminded me of the neural pathways that we create in our brain when we practise a skill, or indulge in a habit. When we try to change something about ourselves, we literally create new neural pathways; not unlike walking in the snow for the first time. The more people walk along the same snowy path, the more others will follow, and the path becomes clearer and clearer. Similarly, as we practise doing things differently (whatever that may be) we strengthen the new neural pathways, so that eventually they become the pathways of choice: like the well-trodden paths in the snow.
So transformation can happen both suddenly and gradually. The blanket of snow made everything look different, however, underneath the snow there were the same streets, trees and cars. Similarly, through counselling or psychotherapy we can come to view our life differently. However, for things to change longer term we need to put in the practice.
The more we walk the new path, the clearer it will become.
(See the following articles if you would like to read more about this): http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=36389
There seems to be a trend at the moment that everyone is supposed to feel great all the time. Never mind that you have not had a good night’s sleep for what seems like forever because your youngest child is teething, or that there is a threat of redundancy at work, or you have just got divorced, you are supposed to portray a sunny, energetic, enthusiastic and positive persona. Feeling stressed or down seems to be regarded as a personal failure, to be cured by drugs or CBT. While there is nothing particularly positive about feeling miserable, it does not help, indeed is made worse by the general assumption that when you are not smiley smiley all the time there is something wrong with you.
Where does this idea that we should be happy all the time come from? Life is life, stuff happens. As Sandy Shaw sang in the 60s ‘I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden!’ Scott Peck’s well-known book “The Road Less Travelled” starts with “Life is difficult.” How true! This does not mean that life cannot also be exciting, fun and joyful, of course it can. But we have to take the rough with the smooth. Whether it is sooner or later, one thing is certain, we will all have our share of rough times.
Feeling upset or unhappy when someone you love is terminally ill, for example, is normal. It does not mean that there is something wrong with you. To the contrary would it not be strange if you were not affected at all? Whereas there is certainly a place for all kinds of help, I worry about the over-medicalisation of normal life. When bad things happen we may feel bad for a while. Of course looking for help to get through a difficult patch is a good idea. However, expecting someone or something to take all our pain away is tantamount to avoiding life.
As far as I am aware, we only have one life and should live it – whatever it brings.