The virgin executive

DESHeadshotBS-1I know I’ve left it late in the session – but I’ve got to start working on this dream with you …

Patient:      … it’s definitely part of the sequence.

Therapist:  We can always make a start. It’s important to capture the energy while it’s fresher; we can come back to it then.

[The therapist’s eyes close to listen.]

P:               I walk into this huge organic building. It’s like it’s made of pushed-up earth but it towers above me – not like a skyscraper – although it’s tall. I get this strange essence that it is alive. It has a heavy ring towards the top – like some form of viewing platform or an escape route. Before I enter the building I’m in a clearing. I don’t know if it’s some sort of jungle that I’ve walked through? Tall, overpowering grasses sway in the perfect temperature.

T:               Perfect temperature?

P:               Yeah, sunny but not hot; cool, not cold. Like those wonderful spring days when the world hints at what summer will bring. That first day when you slip off your winter clothes. You feel the world on your skin after all that insulation.

T:               Le Sacre du printemps?

P:               Sacred spring?

T:               Yes.

P:               There’s an air of real danger outside. I can hear an old woman’s voice that carries across the clearing. She is singing a song I know. I can’t sing it though; I know that I mustn’t sing the words.

T:               What might happen if you did?

P:               I don’t know … but, as always, there’s something very dangerous about stepping into the building. I can see the vestibule is open. It’s not very big. I’m a bit concerned I could get stuck if I start to walk in. It’s like that claustrophobic feeling I had when I went caving as a teenager. Then I realise something bad will only happen if I step in knowing the words. I try not to hear the song; I cover my ears. I try not to sing the words in my head. I know the song foretells the future and the future that waits in the building could change my life in big ways. My heart’s beating really heavily; I feel drenched in sweat. I’m just about to turn back as a group of young women flock around me and push me through the entranceway. The instant I’m inside the building, the women fall to the floor.

[There is a long silence. The therapist doesn’t move. The sound of water being gulped and swallowed invades the space.]

T:               Are the women dressed or naked this time?

P:               Bound in cheesecloth. Full-length dresses. Like they’re in some sort of shroud. I run my hand over one of them expecting warmth, a subtle smoothness beneath the material, but I realise she’s made of sand or perhaps salt. I can’t swallow.

[A glass chinks just before the gulping sound enters the room again.]

P:               I look round the white inner space. All the people have divided into two separate groups.

T:               Are they doing anything? Saying anything?

P:               They form up a procession that leads out of the space. They pass some sort of holy metal object or relic along the line and I’m forced to follow it right out of the building.

T:               Atmosphere?

P:               It’s incredibly powerful … spiritual. I’m laid to the ground by the procession. I feel very free. When I look up there is a sage woman looking at me. She rests her hands on my head and then, with an opening of hands, I’m thrown high into the air, floating on a passage of energy.

T:               Any other signs or symbols from the dream series?

P:               Just those obvious recurring ones …

[The patient pauses.]

P:               When I look down the young women have begun to draw circles on the ground. I can see one particular fire-haired woman. She gets lost in the action and is suddenly abandoned in the main circle.

T:               Do you know what’s about to happen at that point when you’re in the dream?

P:               I do. I know exactly what’s going to happen next. But I wake up before she starts to dance.

T:               You want to see it?

P:               No, I don’t want to see her die this time.

T:               Not even for the elements – the soil, the flame, the drops of water or the breeze?

P:               No, not to appease the gods. It’s changing. For once, in the dream, I realise I want my life. I don’t want to be reborn a young woman, no renaissance life. I want to be anima rising. To use my life.

[Her eyes move towards the clock. He smiles at her warmly.]

T:               Well, the outline’s told. I think we can pick up on it next session. Perhaps we can reflect on the sand/salt women and the change to the sacrificial dance?

Duncan suggests …

Reading Man and His Symbols by C G Jung, since knowing when things are a sign and when they are a symbol of something else is one of the most import things we can learn.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Duncan E. Stafford 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

 

Saying goodbye

DESHeadshotBS-1 ‘On the outside the emotions are being covered?’

‘Yep, there’s a terrible risk in saying “goodbye” that something on the inside will rupture out of me.’

‘Rupture?’

‘Yes, I remember standing on stage … in my mid-20s. I was addressing the audience and was about to thank a member of my band, someone I’d been really close to since I was a child who was emigrating to Australia after the gig. I was stopped in mid-sentence … a syllable more and I would enter the rupture. I turned my face from the audience. The silence on stage was horrific. I don’t remember what next.’

‘You say “rupture”.’

‘When my mother died, I was stuck. The complex grief of losing a mother that I’d only related with well for part of my life left this dark grey block in my chest and the back of my head. I knew I needed to cry but I couldn’t bear to hear the awful sound that wanted to exit me every time I started. Eventually, I turned the music up so loud I couldn’t hear myself cry. But it’s not what I did … not what it sounded like coming out of my body. My inner ears told me what my outer ones couldn’t.’ [Silence]

‘Rupture?’ [Silence]

‘Yes … rupture. The most guttural gasp and then, and then it vomits this sound. [Silence] I’ve heard it from other people. I think it’s the actual sound of loss?’

‘Is it fearful to lose then?’

‘Isn’t … isn’t it fundamental to loving? To connection? The only way to not experience it as far as I’m wired would be by dying so you couldn’t experience loss.’

‘Do I need to worry about that last sentence?’

‘No, no … God no. Nothing like that. It’s that saying goodbye is so fundamental.’

‘So, as it’s a patient that’s brought this up for you, what do you need from supervision today?’

‘I need to say that I have a daughter. A therapy daughter, you know that. It comes from the fact that she adopted me, as a therapy dad. She led, I followed. I had the space in my life to be that figure for a while.’

‘It’s been what? Four years?’

‘Yes, four. There’s been longer, much longer, but I was “therapy uncle”, “good person”, “repairing therapist”, “the first good guy”.’

‘Never therapy dad?’

‘Never “therapy dad”. You know that bit in the training film for therapists, Gloria … the bit where Rogers says, “Gee Gloria, right now, in the moment, I think I do love you like a father”? It kills trainees. They aren’t ready for how it can work in the room. They think it’s a no-no – like he’s made a mistake. But what’s therapy without love? Isn’t it about a form of love? Safe, ethical, non-erotic love?’

And then it hits.

‘Anny is my daughter. I love her as such because she needed me to. So that the therapy could work, so that she could let go of things, discover, rediscover and then let go.’

‘You have a daughter.’ [Silence] ‘You have a daughter.’ There is another pause as the listening therapist collects himself. ’Okay, so we know you understand the process. You know how to deliver safe, therapeutic love to women and men. It’s been a particular theme for you over the last five or six years. What’s different this time?

‘This is only just in my head but … I think it’s that I have to realise that therapy dad is a foster dad. He has to let go. Fully. No matter how much he loved. He has to have played the full role, a surrogate, but when the job is done … [there is a long silence; the room charges with emotion] … when the job is done he has to make space to receive the next therapy son, daughter [niece, nephew].’

‘It’s part of our work for some patients.’

‘Yes patients – from pati – one who suffers.’

‘Imagine that everyone demanded this from us each session!’

The supervision couple laugh together. Letting go of the tension.

‘We supply what our Ps need; it’s a privilege.’

‘Honour?’

‘Yes, honour.’

‘And I wouldn’t change a moment of it, not for all those projections and transferences we have to hold.’

‘But saying goodbye!’

‘I was once given a wonderful message in a card from an “Anny” of mine.’ The supervisor reaches into a tin that is on the side of the desk. ‘There’s a whole bit before this, but here’s the bit that really showed such deep understanding of saying goodbye for me.’

There are things in this world

that even when they live in the past

and can no longer grow into the future,

retain their beauty forever.

For a moment the therapists catch each other’s eyes and each sees in the other the familiar sparkle of light when it catches water.

Duncan recounts from a therapy daughter …

“I feel able to fly, but I am sad to leave”

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Duncan E. Stafford 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

Much love, your brother …

Portrait_002My younger sibling would be turning 50 this year. I wonder what would have been explored in the last half century had that sibling survived?

I think of what pleasures and pains would have been created if I had always had the youngster beneath me in the family. I wonder how my own life experience would have been altered by being the big brother?

As a four year-old, my rather large bedroom in the eaves of the house I grew up in was ready to be divided for the coming of the newest member of our household. I clearly remember how my parents began to manipulate my thinking in preparation for the commencement of the building works. It was ‘going to be fun’ having a smaller room. I’d ‘get to choose my own bedspread’ – I’d even be allowed one that represented the cockpit of a racing car, if I’d ‘just give up [my] protests, see sense and take a positive view’. Of course, being four, I didn’t really understand what was going on and I certainly didn’t understand why my older sister was getting to keep a room of her own with all of her stuff and things in it. There would be no consequence of reduced space for her. I was very resistant and, although I say it myself, rightly so!

Skip forward a few months and a different message was circulating in my life. Unseen, but not unfelt by me, my mother had lost the baby that was due in the family. Suddenly my peace was being shattered by another direct assault on my space: apparently there was someone already in existence who might be coming to share my room. The audacity! An adopted child – whatever that meant. We were now expecting a cuckoo!

As it happens, the cuckoo-child never arrived. But as time followed on I was next introduced to the idea of emigration to Australia, where we would all ‘get new lives’.

The changes seemed to mount and I really didn’t like all of this unsettled social soup that we were living in. Most noticeably, my mother’s health began to deteriorate – her body quietly rejecting something. Loss in her was transformed into chronic painful illness. By the time a full seven years had passed from the loss of the child we were finally moving – but it wasn’t across the globe. Leading up to this move, the basement of our house, which my ‘aunt’ lived in, was converted into a self-contained flat. A new bathroom was created on the ground floor, and then the three upper floors that had been my family home were split  to form yet more self-contained properties. My ‘aunt’, a casualty of this change, moved out. It was a personal loss.

On the day before the morning I started secondary school we moved to a small house away from my friends. It seemed that for seven years one loss became another. Loss transformed until it couldn’t be clearly seen what was actually missing anymore.

Imaginations and dreams gave way to decomposition as I watched my father retreat into what I would later realise was depression. My once-safe comforting mother had, by then, almost totally dissolved into pain and anger. When both my parents were in their final phases of life I dared to fully and directly bring up the loss of the youngest member of our family – but it was ‘too late’, too hidden, ‘hardly remembered’ they said. My child that had sought the adult answers continued to be denied the required explanations, but therapy helped give the events a narrative by which to understand the family loss, pain, anxiety and depression.

Having permanently returned to my home city this year, the ‘golden’ anniversary of all that loss, I allow myself to wonder what different path there might have been if that younger sibling of mine had made it though. RIP Little One.

Much love,

Your brother

Duncan challenges you to …

… reach out to a sibling whatever your shared history.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Duncan E. Stafford 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

Walking with distress

Portrait_002Moving forward under our own steam on two legs is, in itself, an expressive thing. Look around as you move through the city or the country and you will see people doing it – using their bodies and expressing something about their actions, their direction – the stroller ambling along, the I’m late, I’m late followed by, or bumping into, the smart phone addict head down in a separate world, still checking social media on the way from one meeting to the next. But what’s happening with the inner voice? What past directions and journeys are being played in the inner self?

When I take people for a walk-and-talk session they are curious about how it might work. They are often stuck in life, distressed with it or perhaps bereaved. Inner symbols reveal as you walk: things we pass trigger memories, and the pace and openness of not being trapped within four walls help some very difficult thoughts to make their way out of the unconscious into the conscious realm. And, of course, nature and the environment makes itself very much part of the work. This might make sense as to why therapists so often use tree imagery on their websites. Sometimes a rabbit really is a symbol – vitality and rebirth are never far when you take therapy for a walk …

Read on for some of my free verse triggered by the walking therapy I offer.

Pace: on walking with distress

Walking, walking, walking. Pacing things through. We are in the world right now.

Talking, listening, watching. Right at the very edge of life. ‘I remember how my father laughed at me as we drove down the hill. I was about to shit my pants and he was laughing, crying with pleasure … at my distress.’

Concrete, gravel, turf, tarmac, the water at our side. ‘If you add the negative moments up and you add the neutral and the positive, you don’t get what you expect.’

Walking, marching, ambling, pausing, listening, watching. ‘The whole marriage is lost.’ Loving and losing, kissing and hating. Steps pass by as seconds rotate in time. [Again] ‘Were more of them good than bad?’

A courting couple in the back of a car cuts like a knife. Pace, control and then, then, there is just loss. ‘An intense toothache. Everyone knows toothache. Through the whole body, the mind, to quiddity.’

Walking, walking, walking, talking, talking, talking, listening, listening, listening. ‘We finally managed to break down the door but he was already dead, squashed against the back of it.’

If we looked over the bridge once, what would happen? Twice? Would a third time make the pain greater or lessen it? ‘Would you jump?’ How much would I remember of my story?

Moving, moving, now always moving. ‘It helps with the pain; it stops that claustrophobic tightness in my head.’ ‘Are these things in your head or are they in your body?’ The sensation of the cradle rocking, the soft, soft murmuring song before I fell asleep.

Pain, pain, pain, stabbing at the pith. Not needing to let go today, not quite rocked, not stepping away just yet. Step, mirror, step, mirror, step, walking, talking, listening, ‘expressing?’.

What does the body say? ‘A question? What does the body say?’ ‘Feel?’ ‘Say!’ ‘Oh look, a rabbit! Lots of them.’ ‘And the body?’ [Slowly] ‘L-o-o-k, t-h-e-r-e-’s a r-a-b-b-i-t-?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Yes.’

Walking, walking, walking, talking, talking, talking, listening, hearing, feeling, hearing?
‘Yes.’ Feeling? ‘Oh, look, another rabbit!’

Duncan recommends …

Taking therapy beyond the four walls of the consulting room out into the real world and seeing what happens for you. NB this idea makes many therapists anxious about controlling the situation and the space – but they can get help with that.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Duncan E. Stafford 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

Don’t do it, Mr Collingwood …

Portrait_002I think I first noticed the man because he looked uncannily like a school teacher I’d had a positive relationship with. It didn’t seem to matter how many times I went to the supermarket, the man was always there. I’d say inside my head, ‘Good morning “Mr Collingwood”’ in that distinct rhythm we are all taught to address teachers by as school children.

Sometimes I’d meet ‘Mr Collingwood’ in one of the aisles; on other visits I’d see him, almost hunkered down, in the far corner of the car park, close to the railway line – my favourite parking spot.

When someone looks familiar, I think we signal something to the other person – perhaps we radiate a connection in the unconscious that they respond to.

Over the warm summer months it felt comfortable striking up a non-verbal, nodding acquaintance. When you see someone often enough on a regular route or passage, you begin to notice things about them. What I observed about ‘Mr Collingwood’ was that despite his slender frame he was always eating, but there were only ever two things he consumed: a large baguette pulled straight from the bread rack, cellophane wrapper rolled a little way down as he consumed it; or a family size bag of salt and vinegar chipsticks. Both the baguette and the chipsticks were eaten in a very similar manner – thumbs to the back of the packaging and fingers to the front. He would tilt his head down to a fixed position and then the packaging was raised close to his mouth as the food from within was consumed. It took a few observations before I was certain, but it became clear that bread was eaten inside the supermarket yet the salt and vinegar snacks were only ever eaten outside. In fact, the more often I saw him with the savoury snacks, the more I noticed he ate the sticks in a manner reminiscent of a horse with a nose bag, munching up the hay.

I’m not that certain how many times I actually saw ‘Mr Collingwood’ and I’m not sure how quickly I realised he had mental health issues, but we were exchanging a few words by the time the clocks went back in autumn. We never went beyond an ‘It’s warm today …’, ‘For the time of year …’ type of conversation, but it seemed appropriate, safe, friendly – respectful, even.

Shortly before Christmas, on my journey to the supermarket I was overtaken by a police car. At the roundabout, which is the entry road to the store, I could see, close to my parking spot, another police car. The traffic quickly began to back up at the railway crossing and it was clear that a late middle age man, stripped to the waist, was in major distress in the middle of the track. Those with mental health problems need to be treated sensitively and it is incumbent upon police officers to respond in such a manner. Being the first at a scene like this you’d hope the officers had extensive training in how to calm a situation and deal with the distress. But how can this really be expected of a service that was created for very different purposes? I took a look at the officers. They were young and I’m certain trying to do their best, but watching the scene from the car park it was apparent that every time a uniformed figure approached and shouted out to the half-naked figure, a wave of distress racked the figure’s body. He repeatedly raised his hand then smashed his fists on his body like a man boxing an internal shadow he was trying to rid himself of. I looked around for ‘Mr Collingwood’ and my heart leapt; for a moment I didn’t catch my breath and then a tear pricked my eye. It was poor ‘Mr Collingwood’ who was on the railway line. I pushed myself forward for a few metres and talked to the female officer closest to me.

‘I wonder if I can help?’ I asked.

‘No sir, we have to keep you back this side of the line,’ she replied.

‘I know this man a little; I’m a psychotherapist.’

What the hell am I saying!! This isn’t my line of work anymore. I’ve not worked in a hospital department since 2004.

‘We have called for an appropriate medical professional sir, if you could just stand back please.’ And I watched as three other officers tried to herd ‘Mr Collingwood’ like a farm animal.

I’ve not seen him since at the supermarket; I miss our nods and acknowledgements of the simple things we’ve noticed of the day. I hope you are well ‘Mr Collingwood’, I hope you are well.

 

Duncan suggests …

… talking to people in the world as we pass through. Little acknowledgements or kind words can be important connections for us all.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Duncan E. Stafford 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.