Understand the past, embrace the present, enjoy the future

BACP Senior Accredited Counsellor

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So which road do we travel this Christmas...

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One fun pastime best played when people are sitting relaxed with glass in hand is that discussion on ‘what is your favourite or what is your least liked …..’  The subject matter chosen being whatever will provoke a lively debate.

One topic which often comes up is that of the different seasons or months of the year. Most people seem to identify a month which they particularly like or dislike and December can often feature in both of those categories.

In addition to confirming the onset of winter with the darkest of nights, December leads inevitably on to Christmas. Discussion about the festive season can prompt strong emotions. Often in the therapy room there will be links back to early family experiences. Those for whom the festive season is wreathed in warm memories, will talk with nostalgia about a time which seemed safe and for children, exciting and full of promise.

For others the harshness of the cold winter winds seems to be reflected in recollections of times that were either lacking in emotional warmth or at best simply littered with promises which went unfulfilled.

So why does this seem to matter?  Isn’t this just a seasonal reflection of how life is?  A collection of experiences good and bad. As has been remarked elsewhere we cannot choose some of the cards we are dealt in life. Our role is just to play the hand we are given.

Perhaps. I wonder however if this rather functional view of how to regard life can be just a little too fatalistic. 

Of course we cannot alter what has occurred.  We cannot undo the experiences that we have had or change the way events were celebrated or ignored within our birth family.  But now? As adults the narrative we create can be weaved with a much sharper degree of self-awareness.  

Although we cannot undo the events of Christmas past we can with thought and discussion deepen our understanding of what happened and why.   For example we may allow ourselves to accept that love can take many forms.   Perhaps it was sometimes given clumsily in a way that back then we did not understand.  But now?  Perhaps now if we wish to, we can see a little more clearly what was intended and why.

I return to that concept of reframing. The past cannot be altered but it can be reframed. In doing so perhaps the image may change slightly. What happened back then can be seen differently and a little more readily understood.

Even if we cannot alter what has occurred we can certainly influence what happens now. We are present and active in the ‘now’ both for ourselves and others.  Our interactions with others during the days to come will form the basis of a future Christmas narrative to be retold for many years hence. Whether you wish to or not, you will form a part of that story.  You will have a role.

Irrespective of how that role unfolds the key message is that you matter even if that is in ways you do not fully understand.  One day many years ahead, someone will be talking about December and Christmas as being a favourite time. The warmth of those recollections may in part reflect what you did and how you were for that person.

One of my favourite ….and I am going to refer now to my preferences on poets rather than months or seasons …is Robert Frost. 

I think of poems as being rather like paintings. They are there for enjoyment and personal interpretation.   The following words, the closing lines of ‘The Road Not Taken’ creates a narrative that we may all experience in slightly different ways. I see Frost as reinforcing this notion that we impact on the world around us even if we are not immediately alert to the effect of our actions and our influence on others.

The poem recalls the traveller at the place in a New England wood where the road diverges and a choice is to be made….


 ……..Oh I kept the first for another day

 Yet knowing how way leads onto way

I doubted if I should ever come back


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence

Two road diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less travelled by

And that has made all the difference.  


For me, Robert Frost is emphasising that actions matter.  Right now, what you do, how you are and where you decide to go, will have an effect on yourself and others.  At the beginning of this month we start the journey through the festive season – wherever it leads.  Perhaps the most important thing will be to choose a road and then allow ourselves to fully experience the journey that we are about to undertake.

And counselling?  So where does therapy and counselling come into all this? 

These thoughts are set out on a counselling site.  In these notes I invariably come back to supporting counselling or therapy in various forms. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), gestalt, existential therapy, person centred counselling, psychodynamic work, solution focussed therapy….  The list of therapies goes on and on.

But this time.  I think this time is different.  This time I will step aside from the counselling words, avoid the usual therapy encouragement and instead just take the other road…………. 

And I hope that for you in the weeks ahead there are smiles and laughter – even if December is not your favourite month!

Geoff Boutle

added on 1st December 2015

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