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BACP Senior Accredited Counsellor

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A Spring Clean – Therapy and Counselling

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Although New Year resolutions tumble out in early January it often seems to be around March that the desire to clear out the detritus of last year becomes particularly strong. Perhaps that is an inevitable consequence of the onset of spring.

As the days begin to lengthen we start to think about the prospect of better times ahead – or at least different times.  That suggests finding room for the new by losing some of the old – or at least clearing out that which no longer has a place in our lives. This process of renewal can relate to any part of life. The traditional spring clean suggests a physical element but the concept can equally apply to our emotional world as well as to our physical space.

There can be real advantages in working on some of those slightly more abstract parts of our lives. These can almost by default slowly become cluttered and congested. It is argued that we all have finite emotional capacities. If our emotional well is full up with emotions that belong to another time and place, that may not allow room for processing new experiences and feelings.  Perhaps it is now right to put in place some replacement work.

This can involve going beyond the emotional pulls from previous relationships. It is an opportunity to take a fresh look at ideas around our thinking processes, our boundaries and our values.

It is important not just to consider what we do and how we act but also why we function as we do. The classic therapeutic split has been between the more structured and directive therapies such as CBT with an emphasis on ‘solving’; and those from a more psychodynamic basis which look to achieve a deeper level of understanding about why we function as we do.

Both can play a part in our emotional wellbeing but the structured therapies are just that – structured – and can sometime almost inevitably curtail the freewheeling spirit of the search for the new.  Equally any reference to analysis of past influences risks strengthening rather than weakening the very chains that we may want to remove. That is why working with an integrative therapist who brings together both approaches can often be particularly helpful.

Much of what we may regard as our personal value system will have been forged at a time in life when we were strongly influenced by those who have been (or still are) important to us.  We talk in therapy of ‘significant others’. It is a cumbersome phrase but it does capture the impact that some people can have on our emotional development.  

Yet these key people will often belong to that part of our life which is anchored in a different time when we still lacked a real sense of who we were, what our place in the world was and what we wanted to become.  

Significant others will have told us either covertly or overtly what we should think, what was right and particularly powerfully, what was wrong.   This generational influence will include echoes from socio economic class, moral and ethical factors.

I am not suggested that these value laden influences from others close to us should be discounted. These are part of our life experience to be valued, revered and considered but perhaps also questioned. It may also be helpful with regard to that sense of self identity to be aware of where these ideas have come from.

This encourages a conscious recognition of that which I hold as mine because I believe it is right and that which I hold because I have been told it is right

I am not suggesting that we are just prisoners of our past. Much of what we hold in terms of ideas, values and emotions is retained because that is a reflection of how we wish to be. There may however be some ideas from way back which still drive our actions but are not really consistent with what we believe now. Perhaps it is that part of our emotional and intellectual make up which we now need to consider for this therapeutic spring cleaning. 

I often work with clients using the mantra that nothing changes if nothing changes.  If things are to be different in our lives then we will want to be encouraging something new to come in. Unless we have finite intellectual and emotional capacity, this in turn suggests that we will eventually have to let something go.

And perhaps that is appropriate.  We spring clean for a reason. We may not be able to change what happened last month or year but neither do we need to be forever held captive by it.

The evenings are beginning to lighten and soon the temperature will be imperceptibly rising. Spring is on the way. This is a great time for personal reflection. It is also a good time for looking forward whether on your own, with a trusted friend or with a therapist.

If through that process, you can at last let go of some redundant emotional baggage and be clearer about a value system that is right for you now, this may help you to make the most of the year ahead. You may find that you will be moving into springtime with a greater sense of energy and belief than you may have thought possible.

It is your spring time – so enjoy it!

Geoff Boutle

added on 1st March 2015

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