Understand the past, embrace the present, enjoy the future

BACP Senior Accredited Counsellor

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Counselling, Therapy and the end of Summer

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And summer’s lease hath all too short a date

 If that phrase sounds familiar then it is the chap from Stratford.  The Stratford in Avon rather than the East London one.   The line comes from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 which is where the Darling Buds of May first appear.  It is wonderful prose and rewards a read.  The words are beguiling and thought provoking.  

Those thoughts and perhaps also the accompanying emotions suggest that this can be an unsettling time of year. Summer’s lease has all but run out. Even whilst there are still some final glorious days of light and warmth to embrace, autumn winds are threatening to blow chilly and cold.

The changing seasons are of course an ever present backdrop to our lives. Writers often use the progress of the year as a metaphor for life.  We are used to reading that the New Year is in its infancy, our youth is our springtime, the autumn days of life and a myriad of other references.  Perhaps we can even stretch a point whilst referencing the Bard, (plus also Steinbeck) and consider that winter of our discontent.

And as summer wanders into autumn and the leaves start to drift downwards where does that leave us.  Mourning the loss of warmth or celebrating what may have been a great holiday period? Looking forward to that autumnal mellow fruitfulness or dreading the onset of the darker nights.

It has to be your call.  You can choose what to focus on. It is up to you whether to pursue thoughts of melancholy or sit with an afterglow; and whether to anticipate with delight or to dread with foreboding.

One of the issues I often return to in the counselling room is on how we exercise this thing called choice.  Just how do we decide to work through those variants of cognitive and emotional choice in front of us?

Perhaps the most important starting point is to recognise that we do actually have a choice.

Discussions in therapy can help clients to understand how things are and to consider how we may want things to be. We think about what has occurred and anticipate what is to come. This can also include considering how we want to feel about important issues such as our relationships and key life events in our personal story, both past and present.

If this sounds rather cognitive and closely aligned to all that is CBT or solution focussed work then perhaps we should stretch our thinking a little.  One of the advantages of the so called deeper therapies such as psychodynamic work, is that through working with these approaches we can attain a fuller understanding of the influences in life that have impacted upon us.

That enhanced self-awareness can in turn help us to exercise greater control over how to think about what has happened and what is currently going on in our lives. 

If I continue with the poetical references in this piece, we can be not only ‘masters of our fate’ but also the arbiter of our memory.  Whether the event was last month, last summer or last year, it remains very much up to each of us to decide what memories to frame in our mind – and how that image should look.

This is not to suggest that we should opt to repress unpleasant memories or deny what has occurred. What has happened to us will have impacted on who we are. We should not however allow our history to dictate who we will be. 

I sometimes use a phrase about turning ghosts into ancestors.  The suggestion is that ghosts can frighten us but ancestors are just there.  We all have ancestors whether good, bad or indifferent. It is up to us to decide how we wish to view those ancestors. We certainly cannot influence who our ancestors were or what they did but we can decide how much influence we will allow them to have on our sense of self right now.

And what of the more recent people in our past or even in the present  Again we can think back to those who have loved us or instead choose to focus on those who belittled us. We can recall the warmth of a smile or the coldness of a scowl. 

An informed memory provides the freedom to choose if we wish to; and as this is a blog on a therapy website perhaps that is where I should bring counselling into the discussion.    

It is realistic to accept that sometimes this attempt to control our thoughts and our emotions can prove difficult. Occasionally some extra support is needed just to help us to get past a block, look again and to reconfigure the picture that had formed in our mind some time ago.  There may be a problem with that original picture. It may be that time has distorted our memory, that this image may now be out of focus or we perhaps have filtered out aspects of the story that really ought to be told.

A counsellor can help provide that alternative perspective. If we stay with images the therapist can hold up a virtual mirror which may enable the client to look at things differently. There may be another perspective, another picture which the client can suddenly recognise which helps to turn that threatening ghost into a harmless and inert ancestor.

At the very least the counsellor can encourage the client to start to exercise that choice.   And that can also be forward looking. We can start to consider just how we want to be with regard to what lies ahead. 

And looking ahead today, takes me back once more to the change of seasons.   I am writing this in late summer just as the shadows begin that process of lengthening. The year draws on for both you and I but time is still there for us to work with, whether to enjoy or despair. 

We can decide what to anticipate, either the festivities or the rain, the seemingly endless dark nights or the warmth of a fireplace.   The choice is ours – and very much yours.  

And for a conclusion to this note I will end as Sonnet 18 does. I am not sure how well it relates to this subject matter of choice but I like it – and you can choose how to interpret it!

So long as men can breathe and eyes can see

 So long live life and life gives this to thee

Geoff Boutle

added on 1st September 2015

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