Tag Archives: counsellor

True Connections

By Will

As long as I can remember I have always been searching for true connection with others, and I knew in my heart that something vital was missing. Discovering that most of my relationships were of a dependant nature was quite unsettling. Attachment to others in this way is perpetual, as you never truly have your needs met, and can end up continually eating crumbs. Both parties have their agendas, and both may end up feeling half full much of the time, carried with the need to go back regularly to refill their plates. It is very much like overeating in as much as there is never a particular type of food that satisfies, as the food itself will never fill the empty space inside, and so acts as a substitute.

Again and again I have found that these unfulfilled needs originate during our first special relationships with our parents or guardians. Most of us have to believe that our parents were good parents, as to think otherwise would be terrifying. Parents can be good with their intentions, but if they are not connected with themselves how are children to assimilate connectedness inwardly. A parents love may be intermittent, conditional or possessive which creates a longing in the child for love and recognition. The child will never feel enough.

As a substitute for legitimate connection I choose being noticed externally during my younger years, initially through sports, and then through playing in bands and Djing. Although I may have been playing music in front of thousands of people, and hobnobbing with the so called elite and celebs, I never felt truly connected to others in ways that I desired to be. I would role play and created an externally confident identity. When I entered therapy for the first time in my early twenties I had a glimpse of what true connectedness felt like and it was both scary and exciting at the same time. To share your deepest thoughts, fears and feelings with another in a safe environment was liberating at the same time as being very threatening for the ego self. I began to notice a pattern where during one session I would be intimate and during the next I became aloof and cocky and a general know it all. Hence what followed was a kind of peeling back of the ego defences and an awareness of the darker aspects of my psyche which initially left me even more vulnerable than before.

In the words of Eckhart Tolle “When another recognises you, that recognition draws the dimension of being more fully into this world through both of you.” During my current work with my therapist intimacy has become lighter and almost divine in its form. True connectedness also contains paradox and duality where the painful realities of life can be shared but not judged, like seeing things just as they are. This new awareness feels very much like coming home.

The ego creates separation, and separation creates suffering ~ Eckhart Tolle

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Growth and the Search for Oneself.

By Will

Staying with very difficult and stormy feelings is about as testing as it gets for man. Sometimes a kind voice from another can gently nudge you out of these dense and believable feelings. Staying with the pain and recognising it and investigating it is very hard. We may find that the hurt is old somehow, in as much as it seems familiar, and we may get the sense of our unease having been around before.

When we are surrounded and somewhat engulfed by our sensations we may lean towards keeping them inside as they can be viewed as ‘dangerous’ feelings. The thought of sharing them with others may annihilate the listener or may lead us to believe that we may be outcast or abandoned by the other person. We also have a tendency to believe that we should not be feeling or thinking such thoughts which creates a divide inside of how we should be feeling against what we actually are. Self soothing and acceptance can help and personally I find it helpful to share these feelings with others.

The American psychologist Rollo May said “We are more apt to feel depressed by the perpetually smiling individual than the one who is honestly sad. If we admit our depression openly and freely, those around us get from it an experience of freedom rather than the depression itself.” Another quote from Rollo May which may give our emotions a sense of purpose is “One does not become fully human painlessly.”

If you are working towards a greater understanding and acceptance within yourself with the help of therapy, old stories and ways of viewing the world and ourselves are slowly eroded away leaving a sense of emptiness. When this happens not only do we feel a sense off loss, we may also be left wondering about our purpose in life and who we really are. We may realise that our old patterns of behaviour may have not served us well in the past and it makes sense that we need to grieve and say goodbye to them. It takes courage to say to the world, this is me take it or leave it. It is much easier to conform to ourselves and society and this is what most people tend to do. We may be in limbo with anxiety, who’s purpose is to keep us away from discovering our true selves, but when we can manage to live with anxious feelings by our side, our next step is to face what is underneath, which is yet another difficult and painful task, but a task that is necessary for our personal growth and freedom within.

“Steady, patient growth in freedom is probably the most difficult task of all, requiring the greatest courage. Thus if the term “hero” is used in this discussion at all, it must refer not to the special acts of outstanding persons, but to the heroic element potentially in every man.” ~ Rollo May

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Growing Takes Time

By Will

Most of us that are on a spiritual journey, who are attempting to get some understanding of ourselves and be more in harmony with our true nature, battle with patience. It takes time to create new patterns of behaviour and thought and to accept and understand those old patterns that we have lived with for so long. Although there are people who claim sudden enlightenment, the majority of people will have to partake in long and often-times painstaking journey’s, where they may have to repeat the same mistakes over and over again until they learn and accept the lessons or truths that they need to. We need to take this long term relationship with ourselves slowly and steadily, and realise that in as much as we have taken years to mis-understand ourselves, it may take the same amount of time to get in touch with our true nature and purpose once again. You can liken this process to learning to play a musical instrument. We can’t play it harmoniously straight away, it’s virtually impossible. We have to learn to play the notes first and then perhaps a chord, then a song, and eventually we can play intuitively.

I once apologised to my therapist for having a ‘nervous day’ and he replied ‘it’s just a day’. How we perceive our situations is important if we are going to spend lots of time within them. If we can also create conditions that allow our true selves to flow we may realise that some of our old patterns of behaviour hinder us on our journeys. For example, the right conditions for coping with grief may not be a party for some but for others it maybe exactly what they need. There are no rules and we cannot learn these things from books. Experience is key, and while we are learning, growing pain is inevitable. If we can learn to flow with this pain, learn to flow with the energy of the pain and realise that it is required for us to have a positive and meaningful existence, in the long run, we can be safe in the knowledge that we are sewing the right seeds to form a secure base for ourselves in the future. Pain comes when we feel that we should be feeling other than what we are feeling, so we create a disconnection within ourselves, rather than simply accepting what is.

One thing that helps us to endure the long gravel path is faith. Some pray for strength and patience while others may ask their angels or a higher being of some-kind for help. Many of us seek meaningful and intimate connections with others to soothe us and support us on our journeys. One thing all faith has in common is that it is shared. We are not mean’t to be alone.

Often time it happens, we all live our life in chains, and we never even know we have the key ~ The Eagles

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Leaving Therapy

By Will

I will always remember these words from my first therapist “You begin to live when you leave therapy.” I like to think that you can also live when you are in analysis as well, but if you are like me, you may carry your therapist around in your pocket some of the time. So how does that enable you to be free? Having this little thinking and reflecting ‘action man’ with you at all times can be both comforting and irritating. If you have experienced some extremely emotional situations with your therapist, and you have felt comforted by him, you may tend to elevate your analyst to a God like status as they become the Master, the Knower or the Buddha. This can put you in a juxtaposition and in day to day situations you may be influenced by your therapist, and you may judge many of your actions and thoughts with him in mind.

The thought of leaving therapy can be daunting. What will happen to me when I leave? Will I be able to cope? Is our work really finished or is my ego forcing me to end the relationship? Is my therapist trapping me? You may be reluctant to leave therapy as you do not want to hurt your therapists feelings. These are vital issues that require working through and together you both may reach a better understanding. It is almost impossible for both Therapist and Patient to collectively feel that therapy is over simultaneously, so one person as in all relationships, may feel at a loss. When we leave therapy knowing we have not addressed all our problems we may be mindful that we will always have problems and issues to solve as this is part of being human. We can cling to all sorts of illusions and justifications in regards to ending the theraputic relationship but I guess the obvious reason for leaving therapy is that you want to.

We may sometimes loose sight of the fact that therapy is self-centered and your therapy is about what is good for you. After all, your therapist has worked on themselves and should be able to digest the loss and work through it alone or with supervision.

“Intimate knowledge creates vulnerability. Where intimate knowledge is asymmetrical, vulnerability is also. Whoever is known most about is usually the vulnerable one, for multiple reasons. In psychotherapy, this vulnerable one is the client.”

*Quote by ~ http://sleightmind.wordpress.com

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The Depth of Wounds Vary

By Will

“I think his symptoms are likely to be stress related. He has no typical symptoms of colon cancer, though of course, colon cancer often has no typical symptoms.”

As I sit and read this letter, from a digestive specialist to my doctor, I am once again struck by the severity of the power of thought and matters of the heart. Was my body able to produce the same symptoms as my Father who died from this cancer nearly 2 years ago. Can stress really do that?

Unresolved issues bubble underneath unnoticed, often for decades like a volcano, until one day when they finally erupt. What also struck me is the term “typical symptoms” as with the mind and the body we are all so different. According to Freud’s early theory, “painful memories and feelings were repressed by the unconscious and found expression in patients physical symptoms.” Although I have suffered panic attacks and depression in the past, my current physical symptoms seem more physical than mental. These intense emotions and feelings that were repressed may have something to do with my movement around my analysts room, from one ‘place’ or ‘space,’ to another. It is as if I am unable to stay in one place or rather unable to stay with the pain and the wounds for too long so I have to move around.

My therapist was speaking today about Masud Khan who had  fifteen-years of analysis with Winnicott and mentioned the phrase “A hard nut to crack” and that “All nuts can be cracked eventually” and I immediately thought that he was refering to me and our 3 1/2 years of analysis. Whether this was actually intentional or a Freudian slip or even transference from my therapists own analysis, it did not matter. I knew my own interpretation very well which is a belief that I should have worked things out by now, that I should be sorted and more aware of my unconscious drives and desires. It, whatever that is, takes as long as it takes.

Robert S. Boynton wrote “Is the aim of psychoanalysis to “cure” or merely to comfort? Should analysts maintain a clinical, professional distance and respect the “boundaries” between themselves and their patients (as classical analysis insists upon)? Or should they strive for a so-called “real relationship,” eroding the boundaries in order to heal the patient?” I liken this to the earlier phrase “typical symptoms” as I believe that in Psychotherapy there aren’t any, it depends on a multitude of complex factors but mainly on what suits the patient and therapist. For me, the relationship is paramount, for others a more clinical relationship may be what is required. I am unsure if I will ever be “cured” but I am sure of my need for some more of that beautiful connectedness and truthfulness that penetrates deep inside, as these wounds are deeper than I thought.

My sense of identity broke down and was replaced by something that is very hard to put into words ~ Eckhart Tolle

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Musical Chairs

By Will

My current course of therapy began with my therapist and I sitting facing one another. Man to man discussions involving facial expression, eye contact and movement. After a year like this I finally plucked up courage and we began to discuss the couch, which sat far away in another corner of the room. I wondered who lay on there, I wondered what would happen if I lay on there. The couch was discussed for quite sometime and eventually it seemed to take on gargantic and magical proportions. The day came when out of the blue I stood up from my chair and lay myself down. The resistance was startling. I could not see my therapist anymore and I felt isolated, watched and extremely uncomfortable. After a few weeks, lying on the couch became second nature, and I could not imagine sitting back on the chair again. Our therapy changed at that point and I was no longer as conscious of what I said or how I said it. Unfettered speech flowed and I became surprised how open I was without eye contact.

For two years our seating arrangements remained like this, until recently, when I began to feel a compulsion to sit on the floor. It felt a little crazy but I had to bring this up and for a few weeks we would discuss the possible meanings of my desire to get down on the floor. Again, one day out of the blue, I made the leap and there I was sitting cross legged in front of my therapist on the floor. This only lasted a few sessions, as it was quite uncomfortable. The next time I entered the room I took another seat next to the desk opposite my therapist. We looked at each other and we both beamed naively. Neither of us knew what was going on with all this movement, but it just seemed right.

Once again our relationship changed. We started to laugh more together and we stayed away from theory and debate. We talked about politics and art and a whole rainbow of things, and although our professional relationship remained, a new friendship seemed to begin to flourish. I started to feel a new sense of equality with him and for the first time we talked about the possibility of separation and what that meant. Later on we realised that my movement around the room mirrored the internal movements and shifts that were taking place within me. Each view point around the room gave me an alternative perspective, a new way of seeing things. It also highlighted the need to escape the pain of uncomfortable feelings and emotions. Rather than staying with these feelings I needed to move away and escape from them like a fight or flight reaction.

Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain ~ Carl G. Jung

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An Interview with Peter Wilkin

An Interview with retired Psychotherapist Peter Wilkin.

During this interview, I have attributed my own gender to the ‘therapist’ & the female gender to the ‘patient’, purely & simply to try & reduce any possible confusion. I have also used the term, ‘patient’, to refer to the person in therapy, though neither this label nor any of the other common alternatives have ever sat that comfortably with me. However, ‘s/he who has come to explore & make sense of his/her difficulties’ is just a tad too cumbersome to repeat throughout an interview.

I once said, “I sense that Peter is one who has been fully analysed, and is therefore able to analyse others” A while after writing this I came to the conclusion that it is not possible to be ‘fully analysed’ or ‘fully enlightened’. What are your thoughts on this?

I agree entirely. I did enter into therapy before I began my psychotherapy training, purely to comply with the course requirements. Although I did not feel to have any huge issues that needed addressing I was aware of several recurring problems that I intended to share & work on with my therapist. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that those problems went a lot deeper than I had anticipated. My therapist, who worked psychodynamically, was a very astute man who always knew if I was avoiding facing up to difficult feelings and, although he was gentle enough, I knew there were no real hiding places.

Once the course of therapy had finished (2 years) I felt the benefit both as a practitioner and in general. However, I still experience difficulties in certain areas of my life, just like we all do – but if I were to enter therapy for the rest of my years I would never come anywhere near being ‘fully analysed’. Nor would I want to. There are certain little foibles and defence mechanisms that I would prefer to hold onto.

Do you believe that in order for a therapist to help someone, the therapist has to be ‘helped’ during the process too?

Yes I do. I strongly believe that to practice as a therapist without receiving regular supervision from an experienced and qualified supervisor is both irresponsible and potentially dangerous. All therapists are susceptible to reacting back to their patients’ *transference reactions (*transference in psychotherapy is an unconscious process where the attitudes, feelings, and desires of our very early significant relationships get transferred onto the therapist) and it is vital that there is someone whom they can trust who is capable of identifying and interpreting such reactions. As therapists, we all carry our own agendas & we are all susceptible to projecting them onto our patients. Additionally, we are also prone to accepting & carrying our patients’ projections. Supervision provides a safe and confidential space where the therapist can sit and analyse his work whilst also feeling supported.

How did you deal with frustration, in regards to the time spent with a client, where the client was unable or reluctant to change. Do you feel that your frustration should be voiced during the session, or does this depend on the person?

That’s a really good question. I think I learned to deal with such frustrations much better as the years rolled by. In a way, this question links to the previous one. In reality, there is no logical reason to feel frustrated if it is our patient who is resistive or reluctant to change. But, of course, we still do – which can result in us either feeling angry with our patients or, alternatively, over-sympathetic & desperate to ‘make things better’ for them.  All such feelings are fine if we remember to sit & work out where they are coming from – but we do not always do that. Instead, we fail to separate our own issues from our patients and become embroiled in a messy and unproductive relationship with them.

A good example is the patient who has brought an issue of loss to therapy but who seems to be avoiding and sabotaging all attempts by the therapist to help her develop insight and move on. The therapist begins to feel frustrated and begins to lose patience with the patient. Having taken the issue to supervision, the supervisor discovers that this therapist suffered a broken relationship that he had never recovered from. He had never managed to accept the break-up & still grieved for the loss of his partner. Consequently, he had been projecting his own frustrations at not being able to work through his grief onto his patient.

As for voicing such frustration during the session – yes, I think that’s fine … but, of course, there is a particular way of doing it. The rule of thumb is that any such frustrations should be aired in a way which is likely to help the patient develop insight. The other rule, just as important, is always be tentative – in other words, always give the patient a ‘way out’ if they are not ready or unwilling to accept your hypothesis.

For example, the therapist might say: ‘I’m very aware that, whilst you were explaining to me about your partner’s reluctance to talk about his illness, I began to feel my stomach tightening … I can actually feel a huge knot of tension in it … right here *points to his stomach & taps it with his fist* … you know, I could be entirely wrong about this, but … I wonder if I’m feeling some of the frustration that you felt when your partner refused to let you in … you being unable to tell him how that made you feel?”

If the patient is ready to hear the tentative interpretation, a response might be: “I desperately wanted to let him know how frightened I was about losing him … but he just didn’t want to hear. I used to feel so angry with him (begins to cry) … & so wound up that I couldn’t eat.’

What are your thoughts on individual and creative therapy, which may be quite unorthodox, in terms of extending the 50 minute hour or adults taking part in play therapy or even switching seats with the therapist?

Ah! Well, if the therapist is practised in such ‘alternative’ techniques (e.g. in Gestalt therapy) & the patient has been fully briefed about the mode of therapy, then I am all for it. I used to employ similar strategies myself when working with families. I remember a specific session of ‘couples’ therapy when I asked one person to turn her chair round & direct all her answers to the wall. She was baffled at first, until she realised that this was how it felt for her partner when he tried to talk to her, as she never seemed willing to listen to him.

So such creative switches in therapy can work well, although I’m not sure about extending sessions beyond the agreed ‘hour’. For me (working within a very structured timetable) it would have caused problems & inconvenienced people with later appointments. And I believe an hour is ample time at one sitting to address the issues that need to be discussed. Giving a time boundary helps to contain a session by informing the patient that she has a specific amount of time to go wherever she needs to go. If the patient is inclined to wait until the last few minutes before ‘dropping a bombshell’ then this needs to be addressed by the therapist, as it most likely represents a ‘boundary’ problem that needs working on in therapy.

Do you feel it is necessary to share your personal experiences with the client, or again do you feel that this would depend on the person?

Generally speaking, no. I believe the more a patient knows about her therapist, the more that information is likely to pollute the therapy process. To illustrate, if I were to disclose a particular faith or religion, that might prevent the patient from sharing a negative feeling towards that faith or religion. Or if I was to highlight a particular personal difficulty (an illness, a relative’s struggle, an anxiety), that might generate concern & worry for the patient. I know that some person-centred counsellors do share certain personal experiences as a way of empathising but, for me, I think it is inappropriate to do so. There are surely better ways of demonstrating empathy as opposed to revealing personal details.

How important were your initial instincts on first meeting with a client?

Extremely important for two reasons:

Firstly, I trust my instincts. Almost thirty years of clinical practice has honed them to a point where they are pretty sharp at forming an accurate profile of a person.

Secondly, they are a wonderful source of counter-transference for me to explore, either on my own or with my supervisor. Instincts always surface from the unconscious and, on occasions, I will be unwittingly projecting my own beliefs onto the patient. If the therapist is able to identify these counter-transference reactions it can provide him with a rich source of information about himself and his patient.

For example, I may feel inexplicably cool towards a patient in the first assessment session. The reason might be a very simple one, in that she reminds me of someone I know – & if that’s the case I will surely work that out quickly. But at the other end of the spectrum there may be no discernible reason why I should harbour such a negative feeling. So, I would have to explore my instinctual feelings until an explanation surfaced.

A possible explanation might go something like this: the patient lost her mother when she was only a child. She had no father figure to turn to & this caused a multitude of problems for her. Throughout her adult life she has had a string of very brief relationships & only one longer relationship that lasted just over two years. Whilst she insists that she yearns to be in a loving & caring relationship she is also frightened of ‘losing’ any figure that she may get close to. Consequently, she unconsciously projects a rather austere persona that is inclined (& unconsciously designed) to deter people from trying to get close to her.

During therapy, how important are the unconscious or the darker sides of the Psyche. For example, with my analyst, we have adopted a name for the part of me that seeks drama, darkness etc?

What a wonderful question! Very important, I would say. According to Jung the Shadow is an archetype that reflects deeper elements of our psyche. It is, by its name, dark, shadowy, unknown and potentially troubling. It tends not to obey rules, and in doing so may discover new lands or plunge things into chaos and battle. It has a sense of the exotic and can be disturbingly fascinating.

We may see the shadow in others and, if we dare, know it in ourselves. Mostly, however, we deny it in ourselves and project it onto others.

In therapy, if we face up to our shadow side it can help to vitalize our lives. Those fears & anxieties that we suppressed many years ago, when confronted & understood, can lead us to places that we would, otherwise, never have discovered. The negative messages we receive in childhood all contribute towards constructing our shadow sides. If a person is told that they are stupid, or clumsy, or even unlovable, those messages live on in the dark side of the psyche. Shining a light on them is usually perceived as a fearful & risky thing to do. However, exposing them to the light in therapy provides an opportunity to see them for what they really are (hurtful and inappropriate comments) whilst, also, unwrapping potential that, otherwise, would have laid dormant.

For those who would like to learn more about their shadow, there is an excellent article by Denise Linn entitled: ‘Facing your Shadow

Have you ever given a client advice?

Within a contracted course of therapy, never (as far as I can recall). For me, doing so goes against the whole ethic of offering the patient ‘cues’ (in the form of interpretations & hypotheses) so that she may find her own way through her difficulties. Offering solutions by way of advice disempowers the patient by taking away her potential for finding her own answers.

Of course, if the patient asked me: ‘Is there a train station nearby if I’m ever unable to travel by car?’ then I would answer their question. But suggesting various coping strategies runs against the grain of psychodynamic therapy & may even imply that you have no faith or trust in the patient to find her own way out of her difficulties.

Many thanks for giving me the opportunity to address such thought-provoking questions, Will. Having been retired for several years I had to put my thinking cap back on in order to provide what I hope will be satisfactory answers.

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