Tag Archives: therapeutic relationship

Change is not a Choice

By Will

It always amuses me when I look back to around 4 years ago when I entered therapy for the second time. I had just become a Father for the first time and I desperately wanted access to my son, he was all I could think about. I accept now that I had a pretty firm script in my head about how my new analytical process would proceed. All I thought that I needed was six sessions of CBT, to rid my panic attacks and curb my anxiety over my new responsibilities, and I would be back on the road again. I mean, I had already been through five years of analysis before, and during this time I had gone back over my younger years with a fine tooth comb. In retrospect, I think I must have been using an afro comb with rather large gaps in between each bristle. Much of my first 5 years of analysis was spent avoiding the darker shadows of myself.

My family, friends and my analyst all say that I have changed since then, and I do feel like a different person. I am more aware of my compassion for others and myself and my thought processes are more mindful and steady. This brings to the surface the whole question of legitimate change and whether it is possible, but I will leave that for someone else to write about. What I can say, is that change for me was not a choice, something just happened, and I became different. Over the last 4 years much of my time was spent doing exactly the same things as I had always done, while analysing my behaviour, thoughts and processes simultaneously. This circular process continued undisturbed until real life events happened. My Father and best friend passed away within an 18 month period. Initially this created huge regression, where anxiety rang like bell, and I could have drowned in the combination of all my tears. Somehow those long days passed and eventually I was left very much alone with the dreaded nothingness that I always unconsciously feared. This was one of those periods where I was so grateful to have my therapist alongside me, someone who seemed to have walked a similar path. By facing and living in this desolate and remote land of tumbleweeds and sand, eventually something shifted. All things eventually come to an end.

During this time I experienced various forms of spiritual awakening. One time, I awoke one night to find everything crystal and clear. I visualised my whole life flashing before me and I understood why I am the way I am, and what events had caused me to suffer over the years. I realised we were all connected in a very loving way and I realised how pain and fear were feelings that were crucial to us all and that they all contained necessary energies that we can use. I thought I had finally been enlightened and I actually jumped out of bed and danced under the moonlight. I would love another hit of spiritual awakening but they are illusive, they come when they come. I remember having my very first consultation with a psychotherapist in London in my early twenties and she explained that when the psyche had difficulties, like a tennis ball that had gotten wet, the mind takes it’s own time to dry out. I left that session and never returned, but perhaps in retrospect she was right. Something just happens and you feel different, it is very difficult to explain but on this new phase of my path I became curious once again. I began to venture out and see new things and feel new experiences. That was the biggest change.

Then somewhat out of the blue, something stirs inside once again as new uncomfortable sensations and feelings come to the surface. You hold onto your previous experiences, knowing that nothing lasts forever, but begin to use these awkward emotions as a chance to discover something new about yourself. It enables one to gently pass over scenarios, that happened before your change of feelings, where you may discover a link to something, sometimes something very small, that potentially triggered these new emotions or fears. Change involves faith, faith not only within yourself, but faith in others and in the whole process of living. If you view uncomfortable feelings as bad you will experience them so. I believe that the influence of other people and intimate relationships are fruitful and can enable you to share your depths but ultimately, I am what I love, not what loves me.

The art of love… is largely the art of persistence ~ Albert Ellis

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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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Coming Home

By Will

My therapist, who I now like to call my ‘spiritual guide’, has an uncanny way of tuning in and summarising or pinpointing exactly where I am at, especially when I am trying to explain or describe a particularly new sensation that may be beyond words. He sensed today that I was ‘at home’ on the couch which is exactly how I felt. I was glued to the couch today, akin to the grounding one feels when meditating or in deep relaxation, my eyes were fixed on the white cotton clouds that I could see through the window for the entire time. Today’s session had no agenda, nothing specific was discussed or worked through, we simply took a leisurely stroll with our conversation among the many gaps of silence which were like long deep relaxing breaths. It produced a beautiful image in me of a Mother and baby relaxing together, where the baby is happily kicking it’s legs and doing it’s own thing, and the Mother is simply being and not interrupting the babies flow. I think I may have been influenced by Winnicott in this case.

This longing to ‘come home’ is what so many of us strive towards. However many of us feel ‘away from home’ much of the time. We are all searching for something that is already within us that has been lost somewhere along our paths. This does not mean that we all have the potential of continuously being at home, in some kind of enlightened state or ‘Ānanda’ as some Buddhists may call it. However enlightened one is, I believe that we all have certain tendencies developed in our past that tend to rear up over certain issues, which is why acceptance of who we truly are is essential. I often try to be a more spiritual and enlightened person but what is that exactly? It’s just and idea. All I am capable of is being aware when something uncomfortable arises and noticing it for what it is and staying with it rather than trying to fight it off. As soon as I engage my old stories and patterns of attachment to a particular way of feeling I land myself in trouble. ‘I should not feel like this’ or ‘why is this happening again’ only reinforce these old patterns, as well reinforcing my neurological pathways. An example of this is the morning my Father died. I remember, just after I received the news, I walked to the window and watched some kid’s playing happily outside and thought, how can they play joyfully when this is happening!

Developing your own style of daily practice is essential for healing. Tara Brach said on mindfulness, that for some suffering with trauma, practising mindfulness and breathing may cause a sense of suffocating. There are ways of practicing that may suit you better. For myself, yoga has been a wonderful practice but right now I am practising Chi-walking around nature, mixed with prayer and meditation, just because it feels right to me. I seemed to stumble upon this almost by accident and this is where I seek refuge at times when I feel exacerbated. This daily practice is slowly developing into something very lucid for me and helps me to be more centred and free when faced with uncomfortable emotions. It is one thing meditating and practicing and another thing to stay focused when faced with daily experiences that put you on the spot. As Jack Cornfield said ‘If you can always find contentment just where you are, you are probably a dog’. The idea of being a perfect spiritual human being can only lead to feelings of failure. It is though the unconscious knows this and almost sets you up to fail. There are plenty of other things outside daily orthodox practice that can help us like music, art or film which may give us a new sense of purpose and hope. We are individuals and we can engage in being compassionate to our own unique way of living, even if this is not how we planned it.

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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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Michael

By Will

He spoke with hurt and I chose him,
This unfortunate soul becomes ego’s friend,
Father’s boundaries adhered never challenged,
His patience tested on a radius of denial,
Whose crib does he sleep that man in consciousness,
All earthly answers lie creased under pillows,
While the boy rides his bike with tendency to fall,
Caught in sympathies yielding nest,
Growing pains heard from mountains afar,
Gods dream, ripped apart thorn by thorn,
A man is born like a calf with unsound legs,
Who now walks alone under his full moon.
 
Only the wounded healer can truly heal ~ Irvin D. Yalom

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Masters and Students

By Will

In the film Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams plays the Psychologist and Matt Damon, the abused and genius patient, who needs help from his psychologist to find direction in his life. What is interesting in this film is that their relationship goes against the grain of orthodox Psychotherapy. We find the analyst disclosing parts of his own life in order to help the patient. He speaks of his wife’s cancer, his experiences of war, death and love, as well as the smaller things in life, which he feels are important. The therapist realises that this is the only way to get through to his patient and adapts his technique in order to heal. What they also have in common is their childhood physical abuse which is finally shared by both parties and accepted as ‘not their fault’. I always hoped that my therapy was shared in this way but I can also understand that this may be the ego’s way of gathering information from the therapist in order to sabotage the theraputic relationship.

In the Vajrayana Buddhist faith there is something called the Samaya bond. In Pema Chodrons words, “If the student accepts and trusts the teacher completely and the teacher accepts the student, they can enter into the unconditional relationship called Samaya. The teacher will never give up on the student no matter how mixed up he or she might be, and the student will also never leave the teacher, no matter what”. The basic premise of the teaching is to help the student realise that they are bound to reality already and that trying to get somewhere is useless as the student is already there. After time and acceptance of being with things as they are the students world becomes more vivid and transparent so he or she views the same world but with new eyes. “And this is a message that never gets interpreted. Things speak for themselves. It’s not that red cushion means passion, or little mouse darting in and out means discursive mind; it’s just red cushion and little mouse”. The important thing here is that the teacher and student have made a marriage of reality. One cannot leave the other so their enlightenment has to be shared.

In both cases the message is clear; Things are what they are and those things will never change unless our perceptions of those things change also. Our perceptions are mainly based on past emotional experiences and it is enlightening to be able to perceive something in a different way through a new relationship or a new set of reflective eyes. So these perceptions can be changed through love. Also in both cases, the student picks his master like ‘incarnation’ where a child supposedly chooses his or her parents and the master or therapist accepts the students invitation. Also in both cases continuous work has to be done, it needs to be sticked at. You can liken the loving relationship to polishing a mirror. As soon as you have polished it dust will start to settle again.

Often we can’t answer the question; “Is it right?”. We can however ask ;”Is it fruitful? ~ Christopher Clouder and Martin Rawson

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My New Therapist

Jade is 19 and is training to be a Therapist. She had previously written a piece before for this site entitled “My Therapeutic Introduction” which expressed her unease about seeing a therapist for the first time, with whom she felt uneasy and uncomfortable with. Here is Jade’s second account of Psychotherapy with her new therapist.

By Jade

Beginning therapy is a tricky business, walking to that front door, knocking discreetly, looking to see if anyone can see where you are going too. All part of the journey I suppose. I had no idea what would be in store for me until the door closed, I sat down and the therapeutic relationship started to form.

After leaving the therapy room I felt like an ant being put onto an atlas globe. So vulnerable and weak against the world, so much space to explore. I felt like I had been opened up to things that I had kept hidden for so long. I felt like I could explore myself and the world and not feel threatened, it was such a strange but surreal feeling. How this one therapist, after one session, can make me think and feel for so long without me cracking (until I got out of course). I felt like I wanted to go back in there and re-live the whole thing over again. Not that it’s nice feeling the pain and upset and the happiness, but having the opportunity to feel something, to see it as what it is, then that is beautiful. It’s like an addiction to chocolate or prescription drugs; you want more of what you think will make you feel better.

I had on and off feelings about it as I was driving home, maybe it was to much to feel all of this after just entering therapy, maybe im not stable or ready enough, but by hell this lady threw it at me. I had gone back and re-lived some of my childhood that I had forgotten, some deep and dark feelings that now I would much rather forget, but I felt and explored them safely with my therapist. Death had a big part to play in my first session, I spoke about my mum having secondary cancer and she came right out and said “is she going to die”?

I sat back in my chair, looked at the floor and felt like I had been punched in my stomach repeatedly. That’s the first time anyone has asked me that question and it was really the first time I had even thought about the fact that I could loose my mum to cancer.

Im very excited that I have 39 more sessions with her. Imagine what i’ll be feeling after 40, obviously I know their will be some rocky paths ahead of me, but I like this feeling of (feeling), expressing, smiling. I wonder what this year is going to have in store for me, I hope it is many good things that I can share with other people – sharing feels awesome.

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