I was told of a client in therapy who only wanted to talk about the present and not “go there” about childhood matters. That was clear and, for the person-centred psychotherapist/counsellor, it meant that was where he and the client were going. What the client wants – within reason – the client gets.
The conversation had occurred after the client became distressed while referring to events in his childhood. He left that weekly session with his counsellor feeling worse than when he had arrived. He didn’t like that feeling and wanted to keep apart from it.
Sometimes a client feels worse after a talking therapy session than before. A therapist will explain to a prospective client that h/she may feel more unhappy at the start of their journey than they expect. They will be reassured however that the aim of the process is for the client to work through these feelings within the space and ultimately leave the process feeling better and more able to cope with the future than they were before they began counselling.
Counselling and psychotherapy are often used in an interchangeable way because there is no strict legal definition of where one begins and one ends.
However, it can be argued that counselling is more concerned with the here and now, whereas psychotherapy work will involve delving into the past to see why a client may be behaving in a way that is not necessarily helpful to them and why they keep doing it.
Talking therapies such as CBT are favoured in general terms because they are seen as goal-oriented and ways of helping a person change behaviour within a short period of time. As such, it would be considered counselling for the “here and now”. Time-focused clients referred to a clinician by, say, an insurer paid for by an employee, will often cite CBT as the way they want to go. It is said to work well for a person who is used to working with goals and assessments and someone who likes to see quick results.
That is a reasonable expectation and studies show it works. If you learn how to deal with a problem which has previously “triggered” you, there is every possibility that you will have some awareness of how to deal with it should be triggered again. That applies for other equally “triggering” challenges.
However, there could be a problem if the triggers threaten to overwhelm you and, after managing to find a way through one, you find another pops up to disarm you just when you are least expecting it.
At that point, I’d suggest some psychotherapy might be helpful. Delving into your past to discover why you are behaving – and repeating the behaviour – in a way that is not good for you could be helpful. Maybe it might even be useful for us when it comes to choosing our public figures.
I’ve been thinking recently about former prime minister Boris Johnson’s relationship with his father.
There is the recent row about Johnson junior reportedly wanting to give Johnson senior a knighthood through his end-of-term honours list. Brother Jo has already been made a peer, at older brother Boris’s request. While that may surprise some onlookers, we understand Jo had a ministerial role in politics and Boris felt he was right to reward him.
But, when it comes to his dad, the relationship seems very different. We read about situations with Boris’s father and mother – the airing controversy over the issue left one TV presenter resigning from a voluntary and worthy post she’d held for 25 years – and might be confused as to why Papa Johnson deserves his knighthood. Sister Rachel weighed in, saying her father deserved his K for services to the environment. She may be right, it’s just that we are not entirely aware of all he’s done.
From a therapeutic point of view, it’s fascinating to see an adult family still so clearly involved.
Ordinarily, it may not matter, particularly if all are happy with the status quo. But, I’d argue, from a public point of view, we need to know. The dynamics between Stanley and his offspring seem to be not much changed since childhood. Stanley was the boss then and appears to be the boss now. That is likely to have an effect on those children who still seek his approval. Could it be that the indecisiveness Boris is so often accused of has its roots in childhood? Then there’s the competitive element – we’re told Boris must win at all costs; where did that come from? And as for a need to be loved, well, we’d better not go there.
None of this would be our business if Boris had never entered politics. But he did, and his internal thought and decision-making process mattered. They still do. It is too late to turn back the clock on some of the big decisions he influenced and took but perhaps we need to explore the motivations of our politicians of the future. We need to know what makes them tick.
Returning to the client mentioned earlier, their therapist stayed with the client’s request to keep sessions current but could not help noticing how the client kept referring to their past. This was pointed out to the client.
Gradually, as the client came to realise what effect the past had had on their present and as trust in the therapist grew, the relationship deepened with the client revealing more of their inner self, allowing them to see how early behaviour had adversely affected their adult life.
Years of early learning that confuses the soul can take a long time to unravel and there may well be some sadness, anger and distress along the way. It requires a brave person to travel down the road of self-discovery but it’s a journey that can be so rewarding.
Photo 1: Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash
Photo 2: Nik on Unsplash
Photo 3: Brett Jordan on Unsplash