What benefits of counselling make it worthwhile? How exactly is actually helping people?
Great question. Because on the face of it. It's just two people talking in a room in the home and if you just approach that question casually. It would be astounding just to think well it took you know I've got some difficulties in living. And so I am going to sit down and have a conversation with someone. and I am going to be happier and have that work? it’s a great question and one of Freud's early patients called it the talking cure. But really what happens in therapy is more than just talking. Because if it was just talking, you'd feel the benefits just from talking with a friend and you know let's go for coffee let's go for a drink. Come around for a meal two hours talking how you how you bye bye. Why doesn’t that help me feel, why doesn’t that help me solve my problems etc. So let me outline at least three of the main therapeutic factors which, firstly, I would say, being seen. Which might sound a bit strange if you’ve never heard it put like that before.
When I was training many years ago, I was in a group. The very first meeting of this group there's about ten of us in the group with the group leader. And the group leader in that typical group style said like ‘what do you all want here?’ And I thought, blimey! what do I want? And this woman over there, she said, ‘I want to be seen.’ I thought what on earth does she mean you know I don't have a visual impairment, I can see her. So it is not it is not just literally about being seen visibly. But it's I think it's about being tuned into. In fact, I think tuning into is a very good way of putting it because I believe we all, I'm gonna get I'm gonna get spiritual now get a bit spiritual now. I believe that individuals kind of vibrate I think we vibrate a certain energy. I believe that that some well I won’t go too far down that that track.
There is another video.
There is another video. But if individuals vibrate and we each vibrate in our own way, in order to be known then we want someone to tune into us. And if someone just tune into us and we noticed that what happens is, I believe, that we improve our sense of identity and who we are. Now why is it you was it used to useful to be to be seen As I say it because it might sure up in mine strengthened my sense of identity now why it why might I need that to happen. And. I'm going to talk about mothers and mothering. Now. Everybody. On this planet is a human being obviously all humans are human and humans are not perfect. Thankfully I mean if we were all perfect. Life would not be really at all interesting. And so. For that reason, Mothers are not perfect there's no such thing as a perfect mothering we know we we do. We do our best. As some people in the these since in therapy circles talk about good enough mother. So what what one of the tasks of the mother? and then later on the father is the baby becomes aware of the father. The mother and the parents well I'll put it another way the baby needs the mother and patterns to tune into them to let to physically look out at the baby and the child. If you know if you noticed babies they, they look around and they if you give them my concept they look back. Now they babies like to be seen. And the opposite that the all converse is true they don't like it. Not to be seen. Now they don't have a voice they can’t say hey can you look at me. They cry. And that if things go badly that the crying gets ignored. Misdiagnosed of we just need his nappy changing. But babies need to be seen and known and when that's interrupted very strongly if mother's, say mothers alcoholic. And same with father as well you know if fathers alcoholic or parents are depressed.
You know mommy will you play with me later later or even if the child doesn't experience being experienced. It's very difficult for them because they're gonna grow up with a sense of being bad or guilty. Or sense that there's no one else in the world for them. You know. They might become prematurely self sufficient. They might may withdraw from the world. They might be chronically trying to impress people because they didn't get mother's attention enough.
And there's no one there's no one path for this bit when the attunement from the parent’s lacking. You could say empathy from them parent is lacking than that then they're all going to be difficulties emerge from now on, and so when this someone comes to therapy or counseling on and stays for a while it’s not really gonna have it doesn't really have a huge long term impact if they only stay for a couple weeks.
You know if you you really stick out there stay for a long time enough time to to be known. Cause it takes a while to get to know someone. Some of this lack of achievement and lack of being tuned into can be brought to the awareness. And then maybe necessary grieving can happen and then things that flow from that acceptance, controversial word forgiveness.
Why do you say controversial?
well some people. I've had very difficult times with parents. At the extreme parents who abusive or neglectful and find that the whole concept of forgiving parents very very difficult. So it’s a word I approach with caution but certainly, life is easier for them if they can accept what happened then kind of except that person that mother. For whom they are. flaws and all. So what we were talking about to the elements into that therapy session that were useful so that's the first thing being seen attunement, having received the empathy of the therapist.
Now second thing is that comes to my mind is something called the containment. Which is a much sound like a strange was a big technical. And the idea is that we human beings we need to contain a feelings you might say what the hell does that mean? Well. Let's I assume take as a given place that we all have a bunch of emotions. Whether or not we know it whether we are not in touch with them, we've got a bunch of emotions. Sad, Sadness, anger, guilt, shame, fear, disappointment, regrets. And then as I said the so called positive ones anticipation happiness and contentment ecstasy etc. Now sometimes those feelings are too much for us. If we work in too much in touch with them they might feel they are not manageable. And we might want to escape from them.
Just as an example. Drinking too much alcohol or being addicted to sex, using prostitutes. Or let me see a third example. How do we try to get away from those feelings say grandiosity sort of delusions of omnipotence meaning I believe I can do anything and not there are no such things as obstacles or problems you know once I arrive everyone will be saved because I'm here a kind of thing and usually such people are pretty unattractive. And that they will be could experiences a big head.
Okay so those are ways in which we try to get away from feelings and they’re destructive ways that can destroy relationships destroy our happiness etc. Now what is going to be useful for such a person. Is to be able to experience those feelings but not do those destructive behaviours.
And in the therapy literature the expression ‘act out’ is used so the idea is that we when we drank too much or go to the same prostitutes or pretending to pretending to the world that we can fix everything. Then we are ‘acting out’ on the emotions that we that we tried to deny, push away. So for a happier life, in order to stop doing those things, we need to we need to know these emotions. Now how do we do that? Well the idea is the space in a therapy session needs to be reflective. and what do we use to reflect? We use the mind. Our mind is our tool that we use to reflect on who we are.
Now we can only reflect on who we are if we experience things going on if put it another way if we are totally numb, we can’t really reflect on what's going on for us, because we’re out of touch with it. And so the meeting with the therapist, the regular weekly, usually weekly meeting, where this therapist does things that might say bit odd like silences, not answer questions and not talk to you after the end of the meeting when you are you going to the door to leave the meeting. And client says to the therapist ‘by the way it’s a nice picture on the wall there. which artist is that?’ And the therapist doesn't engage with the clients around that. What I do in that situation I say, ‘please ask me next week and we can discuss that.’
The really really strict therapist there will doesn't say anything. And just yeah so that the client go did not want to talk about that my foot in it. So but any anyway what I'm just talking about there is the ways in which therapy’s different from a normal conversation.
Yeah there is much more different.
So, these are all things silence and not answering questions keeping very tight boundaries around, time around, money, place tight boundaries around the therapist’s behaviour you know we're not going to go for coffee afterwards. You know. We only have to meet in the therapy room. Yeah okay just hold that.
Yeah just going back a bit. You talked about containment of feelings, and you also spoke about numbness of feelings so and not being able to feel yourself at all so what’s the difference between numbness and containment of feelings.?
Okay very different. In the what I'm saying is the goal is to be able to contain our feelings now what that means is, be in touch with our feelings and have them all without acting them out and being destructive. And how do we do that we do that by reflecting on them. But we need help to do that. First of all, we need them to arise. So the therapy setup if you like it's provocative it provokes a feeling response. It's you know if we just go for a coffee you know you might not experience the feelings that you need to work on like anger because you feel abandoned for example. And so the extended the conversation over weeks months and years of therapy are a space where the client develops that capacity to reflect on their feelings without acting them out. So there's something very important to assist that process because some of these feelings might be that come up for the client might be directed towards the therapist. Okay. Like irritation why do you never answer my questions.
For example you know. Why don't you help me identify things I need to talk about why don’t you help me more. There are also some reasons apart from many other things like I don't like men with beards or your fashion sense whatever. The yeah so the client might feel some sense of irritation with the therapist and it's very useful to talk about that. And. And. This is this is what so helpful in therapy is that the therapist. If they're any good will not retaliate okay so. If you. If you go for a drink with a friend and you say to that friend look I'm irritated with you because of X Y Z. It's quite possible, not always, happen will happen but it's quite possible your friend will go well you're a fine one to talk.
Remember that time when you did that to me. I saw that it becomes a battle and is a retaliation now that if the therapist any good. What happened the therapist's job amongst other things is not to retaliate. And. I can tell you. I can tell you from doing this for twenty five years that I have been on the receiving end of some behaviour that has been irritating. You know people not paying people having a session and not paying for it. I'll pay you next week because I'm out of cash with me and then next week arrives and they don't turn up just as an example or they do something else like I can’t think of an example but that is blame me for something that I haven't done. Blame me for not attending to them in some way which at which I should have done in their eyes. So. It's the therapy is of no use if I then try to defend myself. And say you're not taking account to the fact that it was the end of the week and I was tired.
You know if I say that as a therapist, the therapy’s over because I'm then destroying the safety within which these difficult things come out. And then I'm gonna get in the way of helping the client develop the capacity to reflect on who they are and contain their own feelings. So I've got another point I got another point two of them two points about the containment and earlier on was the first point which I've forgotten. I got it on my notes down there being seen, how could I forget that! being attuned to attunement, empathy and containment. And I have got third point to one of the elements of therapy. But before going so that is there anything that you want to know?
No I haven’t got any questions so far.
The third of the list of things is not necessarily an exhaustive list. But the third thing that comes to mind is self awareness. As they say know thyself. It's a good thing to know yourself. Because. You'll if you the more my view is the more you the more you know yourself. The less likely you are to do all the bad stuff basically. The more I know myself the less I’m likely to piss people off. Okay. Now. What is it about myself that I need to get to know? I need to get to know my emotional life which I've touched on earlier. I need to get to know my defenses. And this word defenses - it can feel like a four letter word. Because, I think it's connected to a defensive you know we're not supposed to be defensive are we. If someone if I was to say to you James I experience you as defensive. You might not like it. You know what’s wrong. So the idea of us having defenses might be a little bit difficult to accept for some people. I sometimes use it word protect instead to defend. I say I think you are protecting your seeking to protect yourself in that way.
Or maybe this is a kind of protective mechanism instead of a defense. And that way people in my experience can hear it more easily and kind of they get less defensive. If I say you're trying to protect yourself rather than if I say you're being defensive or this is one of your defenses. So you might say well. What are these defenses. Will tell you all do all take a take example of me what my defenses. What they have been.
I think one of my defenses is been I'll start from the problem and gets the defense my problem one of my problems has been never asking for help. So I end up tiring myself out doing everything because I don’t wanna ask for help. And I think that's because. I've had this. View of myself as. You know I can handle it. You might say omnipotent or they certainly. I'm resilient you know I'm I can triumph over this. I am not vulnerable. And I think the act of asking for help from people risks letting out vulnerability be seen.
Because when we say you know I need help I can’t do everything. I need help. And that can be got can be difficult and the stereotype is that men found that more difficult than women. That is even a book and if you've seen the book title. If the book is why. Why women can't read maps. And why men never ask for help.
Ah right. You know I actually found it easier to ask for help once I started to know myself better because I guess I saw myself as flawed and I was ok with that. And I also realised there are things I want to do in my life and there isn't enough time to do it all on my own. To get there quicker I need someone to help me. Yeah.
So. That's an example of the defense kind of grandiosity and imagined invincibility. So what other defenses are there? I was talking earlier on about people who are bereaved, denying in one way or another. Even subconsciously when someone died. So denial grandiosity another one’s withdrawal. Supposing I feel vulnerable around making new friends or joining in. If I join in I’ll be afraid that people will experience who I really am. And they’ll experience me that I'm not very knowledgeable. And they all know stuff you know what I end up going down and I won’t be impressive. So then I withdraw from that. So I’m withdrawing from the feeling of vulnerability around not knowing stuff or not feeling very sociable and what happens out I probably feel pretty lonely. And if it gets worse I may get past the loneliness into depression. Now, depression you often hear people saying that I'll feel depressed but in my view depression is not a feeling. It’s actually a defense the state we get into due to defend ourselves against feeling so when depression is very deep it’s a retreat. Some people called a psychic treat or psychological retreat. It’s as though we get under and hide but not just physically. We do it emotionally. So we try to retreat from sadness. And retreat from anger and some of the emotions are more difficult to retreat from, like guilt.
Some people are racked with guilt you know ant they can’t feel the sadness. And or shame some and shame meaning feeling I am bad. So that can be that can be a really deeply held awful feeling I am bad I'm no good I am useless. That is difficult to retreat from but at the extreme end of depression there’s a kind of void and nothing. Is a total retreat from feeling does not feel I'm not feeling depressed? I am in a depression on how I'm depressed.
I would not say had a partner who was very depressed and Two o'clock in the morning I woke up and I realised and that she wasn't in bed next to me. I went into the living room. And she was sitting on the floor. I was gonna say watching the television. She was sitting on the floor with her eyes open facing towards the television and the television was on with low sound but her eyes were kind of glazed over. And when I attempted to reach out to her and talk. It was very hard to get any response at all. it’s as though she disappeared. Just to say there was nothing there I mean it’s not true that there was nothing there it was all locked down in a cellar kind of a thing down in the depths of the self. And that's a very difficult state to be in. Very difficult to reach and it's very it's very difficult to get out of that. One, it's a very big step for people in that condition to come for therapy. Because they got a they're going to say I've got this problem. I have got the hope that someone might help me. Anyway I'm still talking about depression which it weighs in on another subject but I'm mentioning it now because it is it is it one of the ways in which we defend ourselves against feelings.
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