As with planned endings in therapy, this month I close my blog, prepare to take a break from my practice and think about what I take with me. I’m going for the good stuff.
I see now that when I started to write a blog in that first lockdown, April 2020, to maintain contact and continue the job of seeking understanding for clients, I was also seeking to find understanding and maintain connection with myself. I am grateful to have done both.
Using my own process at this closing phase, this blog demonstrates something of the task of therapy. Drawing from our observations and experiences, paying attention and seeking to understand what they mean to us, connects us to aspects of ourselves, making for a fuller, more balanced state of mind and wellbeing.
Weaving my experience, events of the last year and the therapeutic process I offer a closing chapter for this phase. I am spoilt for choice, it has been a rich year for learning. I could have chosen nature: the trust gained by letting the changes/seasons come and learning from sitting in a natural setting, finding how it holds us in a way we did not understand possible. An incredible gift we have shared here. I could have gone the technology route, drawing from the unexpected depth of work created in sitting alongside each other whilst in different locations behind different devices. What this tells us of connection and human resilience and capability is incredibly exciting.
I have chosen to bring examples of people who have inspired me as this demonstrates more directly the process of integration in therapy of parts of ourselves. It parallels the therapeutic relationship: one person connecting with another.
The theme is ending, but what comes through is that a good ending in therapy really is the beginning of something else. I deeply and sincerely hope that is true of the ending of this pandemic too.
When ending therapy we reflect on what has been learned. We take stock of where the client was, where they navigated and where they are at this end point. The final session is a deep engagement with what is being taken from this therapeutic space. A naming of what the client has reclaimed and developed within themselves in this therapeutic realm.
The client may have come to grieve. Coming to terms with some past wounding might have been the work. Redundancy, divorce, relationship impasse are all experiences that lead people to this space. During therapy one’s experience is expressed, identified, mourned, responded to and recovered from: the focus is now on the healed self.
A newness of self calls for new recognition, acknowledgement of growth, change, work that has been done. Celebration is called for and a shared gratitude for the time given.
As I end this blog and look ahead to a summer break I reflect on the changes, new identities, grief, loss and gains in my practice since the pandemic shook us all in March 2020. I don’t know how much will be changed or reverted back to the old normal when I return at the end of August and I step out with a sense of ending a chapter.
I consider, as I ask my clients to, what equips me to move forward well into the next phase. What do I take with me? What have I learned, how does it serve me? Has coming to this place of writing achieved what it set out to?
The first thing I take from this last 16 months is Tom Foolery’s offering ‘Why hindsight is 2020‘. It was, and still is, a go-to resource for me.
This came early in the pandemic, in that first phase of chaos and uncertainty. I love how Tom presents hope that good can come from bad. Reclaiming something ‘good’ is an outcome of therapy, but timing is important. There needs to be acknowledgment and processing of the ‘bad’ in order for the ‘good’ to emerge – the loss, trauma, pain, crisis – has to be witnessed first.
Tom’s piece is a final, polished, finished article and not the work in progress which itself is so much messier and less linear. In therapy, as with the last 16 months, the process is more stop – start, uphill – downhill, insight – smog. The work is not linear, not easy; it is a sifting through to discover what needs to be found, what is to be responded to. In this process we create breakthroughs and recovery.
Tom offers an ideal and one I like to revisit when overwhelmed by negative and damaging world news. It speaks of bad and hope; acknowledges weaknesses and failings. It holds them up as things that can be grown from. Therapy mirrors this process.
Professor Chris Whitty’s words (5th July 2021) I also take with me. His third reason for continuing to wear a mask beyond the enforced restrictions was ‘common courtesy’. If someone else was made uncomfortable by his not wearing one he would wear one, he wisely and kindly told us.
Common courtesy is an old fashioned term and a fundamental necessity, not just for Covid.
Professor Whitty emphasised wearing a mask protects the other. In therapy, the therapist’s task is to protect the client, create a safe space, contain, hold boundaries, do no harm. When not upheld great damage can be done. When a client is harmed in therapy, intentionally or unintentionally, it is deeply wounding.
In an environment created to repair wounds an overly zealous challenge, an unhelpful interpretation, a not-thought-through reflection can be at best confusing for a client, at worst retraumatising.
The therapist has a duty of care to repair the rupture when it is known a rupture exists. This can strengthen the therapeutic alliance, but there are times when this does not happen. The client may not return. It may be impossible for the client to speak of being wounded, instead they retreat. There are many complex communications within the therapeutic alliance – projection, projective identification, transference, counter-transference are psychoanalytic terms used to identify and understand some of these. My job is to be aware of them, understand them, make sense of them to inform the work and learning for the client.
In successful therapy the therapeutic relationship is reparative. Enabling the client to be seen, heard and responded to appropriately and helpfully. It models for the client a way to respond to one’s pain, distress, emotion. The therapist protects the client and in doing so invites the client to protect themselves. Making way for the process of self-care, the therapist demonstrates the client matters, is worth protecting from deadly viruses/psychological wounding, and invites the client to believe so too.
I am grateful Professor Whitty spoke of common courtesy, the power of it, the need for it. In therapy it is the therapists’ care and attention for the client, the ‘common courtesy’, that invites recovery, and so too in the wider world.
I take the image of Gareth Southgate embracing his team players as they faced into their own personal and collective defeat, failure and sorrow at the UEFA 2020 final this month.
Before the ugliness and cruelness suffered by England players after the game we saw expressions of love, care, support and connection. Between players a physical drawing together, holding and connecting. Their Manager, Gareth Southgate, moved instinctively to those in need and held them firm. As the blow of lost hopes and dreams, lost ideals and goals – literally and figuratively – was felt they came together and demonstrated care and support through the most basic human response.
Via my television screen I saw tenderness and strength in Gareth Southgate’s response to his men. A striking image of paternal affection, a father figure amongst these men and our country. Amidst the pain and suffering which went beyond the lost match and into a world still in the grip of uncertainty and imbalance, Southgate held firm and with compassion. Containing so many with firm and solid grounding in those minutes he acknowledged, supported and responded with emotional and physical presence.
Tending to despair, loss, defeat and brokenness in therapy we develop the client’s ability to parent themselves differently to how they were parented. The Transactional Analysis model of Parent, Adult and Child, the Internal Family System model of Parts, the Psychosynthesis model of subpersonalities and the Psychoanalytic theory of Object Relations all offer a framework to develop the client’s sense of self and ability to love and respond to themselves well – not judgmentally, critically, neglectfully or abusively as they may have been in the past.
In a world made up of individual childhoods, families, homes, organisations, companies and institutions lacking a caring responding other such as this, Gareth Southgate reignited my passionate faith in the transformative power of being alongside, acknowledging and holding. I am grateful for that.
Using our experiences and observations, reflecting on how they resonate and what they evoke allows us to know ourselves and our needs better. Deepening connections within ourselves allows for deeper connection with others.
I understand these examples resonate with parts of me that need to be connected with so that I may be more fully myself. More fully myself means being self aware, balanced and conscious of what I need to pay attention to. It helps me sustain blows, uncertainties, challenges and threats of everyday life. And pandemics.
Tom Foolery’s piece connects me with the part that holds hope and the ideal of a world where bad can be overcome and made good.
Professor Whitty’s statement connects me with the solid ground of my professional self and serves me as a human being. In touch with the simplicity of being kind we can create a safer place.
Gareth Southgate puts me in touch with the part which needs to stand firm, trust its strength and solidity. A challenging but powerful place I don’t often own but repeatedly return to for sustenance and growth.