People come to therapy when avenues for understanding themselves or moving forward stall. They come because love has gone wrong, because they are frozen in unsatisfactory work or intimate relationships, because they have lost touch with themselves, because they are searching for authenticity, because they don’t know how to let go, because their life is falling in on them, because they have suffered events so bruising they don’t know how to assimilate them.
They come in pain, in confusion, sometimes in sorrow, sometimes bewildered or frightened by their behaviour, sometimes in anger, sometimes to express grievances. They can be full of words and yet devoid of the ones they need to express the underlying confusions. They can be full of emotions which repeat on them because the emotion that engulfs them is part of the problem covering over more subtle feelings which don’t have a home in the person’s sense of self. They can be full of ideas, of theories about why misfortune has befallen them.
The work of therapy is to open up these three levels: feelings, words and ideas. It aims to crack open the existing words, the existing emotions and the existing ideas. Therapy tries to slow the person (or the couple or group) sufficiently to hear, feel and think what they are saying and to have it heard by the therapist.
Words, and how they are said, take on special significance. There may be few of them, with gaps and hesitations in between. They can come tumbling out, and yet what they are saying may misfire, too jumbled to yield their truths immediately. Therapy takes the time to listen closely. To find entry points so that contradictory thoughts and feelings can surface and be acknowledged, so angers can be heard, disappointments felt, anxieties unpicked. In that hearing, a person or a couple can know themselves, their motivations, their feelings, their understandings of self, more deeply.
Therapy doesn’t seek to fix the problem in a simplistic way, although good therapy always addresses the problem that is brought in. Therapy’s aim is to understand, to provide context, to indicate ways of thinking, feeling and being that invite the individual to know more of her- or himself, to extend their experience, to intervene in stumbling blocks or hurtful practices, to live more richly. Conflicts may remain but are often transformed. There are always reiterations but now ideas about the source of pain shift about. Where there may have been one word or one emotion to explain oneself to oneself, there may be several words and feelings and even ideas that sit alongside one another. A clamp one didn’t know existed is released.
Where there once was a full stop, there can now be a comma. And where there was only a past or a future, there can be a present, informed by an examined past which can welcome rather than fear a future.
The consulting room is a place of reflection, of intense and yet often quiet conversing, thinking and feeling. The stories here encompass loss, shame, intergenerational conflict, the impact of illness,parenting, challenges of late life, life’s disappointments, the role of faith, belonging, love, hurt, achieving, connecting, failing, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, longing, wanting and transitions. Examining these themes as we read along beckons us and the analysands to find ourselves, anew.