Everything has still to be learned

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Everything has still to be learned

14 March 2017

On a wall in my consulting room is stenciled, in 2-inch high letters, a quote from C G Jung: ‘Let no day pass without humbly remembering that everything has still to be learned.’ The quote, which was first offered to me by my Jungian analyst during my own twice-weekly encounter in the late 1990s and early 2000s, made its way to my wall six years ago when I moved into my current workspace. It had, by then, become a mantra for me in my professional and personal life.

I’m aware that the simple idea of never-ending learning that the quote suggests has often been the inspiration for my writing of this blog; see, for example, Crying has an upside for men and women alike, On being ignored forgotten or abandoned and What are you living for now. When we really begin to look for learning in our lives we can be surprised just how much opportunity there is to do so.

While it is obvious and common that people think about therapy as being focused on re-working, understanding and narrativising (for example, past traumas, anxieties, bereavement, loss or depression) or that counselling and psychotherapy help us to move through issues like understanding communication or sexual difficulties as a couple, a simplifying, alternative view is that a surprisingly large amount of therapy is done around learning things. Of course, this learning is not in the way we learn in an academic institution but, nevertheless, therapy is about learning. In the unique non-partisan confidential space of the therapy room we might discover and learn how to look after ourselves better or we might learn a new way to look at a difficulty or problem. With the help of therapy, we might even be open enough to learn new things about old stories or patterns of behaviour; we might see that we can still alter the way we see ourselves within a relationship or perhaps in relation to a past situation.

In part of my professional life – working with sexual addictions – I am even more taken by the learning that therapy becomes. One exercise I use to help addicts become more aware of their behaviours, which I call ‘Stop Moments’, is a task focused on seeing the world in a different way. You ‘stop’ and find something to see in a way that you haven’t before. When people begin this special sort of observation, they often find themselves monitoring the movements of an insect on a window frame or watching a raindrop slide down a pane of glass. Later on in their therapy, I get to hear about wonderful and special moments that people find for themselves. These observations enliven the process but, more than that, they make me certain that therapy is created in a very individual way. Importantly, it continues to remind me, as the therapist, that I too still have everything to learn about a process I have been involved in for more than 20 years.

When someone strays

Blog200Couple29 February 2016

Most people – whether through experience or empathy – can understand the range of feelings that go through someone’s mind and body when they discover their partner has, or is currently having, an affair. The event more often than not is experienced as a catastrophe by at least the wronged partner and it is common for all blame for the situation to be heaped on the straying partner.

From the therapist’s chair, affairs often look rather different. An affair, almost without exception, is actually a specific form of communication. In supposed monogamous relationships the fact that an affair has arisen suggests there might be evidence to support the idea that this is a relationship that has issues – and the underlying issues have probably developed over time. While it is very difficult to look beyond the pain of the immediate situation, couples who find their way to the consulting room tend to be providing themselves with an opportunity to really deal with their immediate and more longstanding problems.

One of the difficulties couples have to overcome when starting work, if an affair is the presenting issue, is avoidance. Avoidance is a strategy that rarely works in relationships and, while I don’t have space to go into any detail about it in this blog, it might be obvious to most people that avoiding an issue doesn’t mean it goes away. Indeed, a wide range of strategies of avoidance gets used between couples. One thing to bear in mind is that avoidance restricts resolution.

If you have discovered that your partner is having an affair, then I suggest you move more slowly with things than you might immediately feel driven to do. If you leave the relationship straight away you limit your opportunity for understanding what has happened and ultimately for your own repair.

Find yourself space. You are unlikely to want to go on sleeping in the same space as your partner for a while, but if you move too far away this is likely to fuel your anger and indignation. Try to reach a civil agreement that can work for a short time about how to use the space in your home.

Seek out some help, but be careful of other people’s moral judgements or advice. Therapists can be useful at a time like this because we don’t have to take sides. We tend to try to open up the picture so that understanding of the situation can be brought to bear, and the non-judgemental position can help make sense of the anger and rage that is commonplace at a time like this.

The process of working things through is actually just as likely to make you a stronger and closer couple than it is to split you up, providing you both want to work on the issues and are happy to look at not just your partner’s actions but also your own. Sadly, not every relationship can be brought back from the brink, but in thinking and talking together it is likely that even the decision to split will bring some positive benefits.

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Why not visit my therapy website – therapy-space – where you can contact me or find further information about the therapies I provide for women, men and couples.

On breaking resolutions and getting things fixed

Calenderblog19 January 2016

Blue Monday – apparently the most depressing day of the year – has now passed and, according to many reports, three-quarters of those who made New Year’s resolutions have already not seen them through. In fact, badly made plans start to fall apart as early as the ninth day of the New Year and 35 per cent of people break their resolution before the month is out.

Since most therapists (myself included) work with addictions at some level or other, the start of the year brings to our practices some people who already feel pretty deflated by their own effort to control negative life habits. This is a pity, since it’s often not the person’s willpower or discipline that is at fault but the way in which they planned to make their change.

Many people don’t understand how to successfully make changes in their lives and so tend towards ‘over-commitment’ when they undertake those changes. Connectedly, if you try to make too many alterations at the same time, you tend to make a successful outcome harder to achieve.

Evidence from many sources, including my own practice, suggests that making change in life is more easily achieved when you make a proper plan to achieve it. If you simply make up your plans on the spot, there is a much greater chance you will miss the detailed planning that goes along with effective change. (I guess you might already be able to see why deciding to finally give up something on the last strokes of midnight on December 31 often fails so quickly.)

It can also be quite difficult, if you are on your own during the process, to not only make changes but also retain motivation. Sharing your goals with someone, even a therapist, will likely help you to stick to the change. Effectively, when you talk through your ideas for change with someone else you begin to form a contract with yourself. In the 14 years I’ve been involved in helping people to make changes, a well-formed contract has often made the difference between success and failure.

Finally, we tend to underestimate how long it takes to change a habit. According to research conducted at University College London (see Phillippa Lally), it takes a sobering 66 days for simple new habits (such as eating fruit daily or jogging) to become automatic – although individuals range wildly in their abilities, taking anywhere between 18 and 245 days to affect the changes).

When it comes to positive change around issues like overuse of porn or other sexual acting out, then habits are often deeply ingrained and complex. Rather than launching my new porn recovery programme REWIND on 1 January, you can perhaps see why I’m waiting until a little beyond the first few weeks of the year before I open it up.