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GEOFF BOUTLE
BACP Senior Accredited Counsellor

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Valentine’s Day, Counselling and the Great Unknown

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Last month in this space I was musing on the gods – at least the Greek and Roman variety. If I now drift down the table of celestial beings, the next stop is presumably the saints – and for February the most visible saint for a secular world is St Valentine.

February 14th must be one of the most widely known saint’s days, albeit one with rituals more closely aligned to wine and roses rather than piety and worship. It is suggested that the linkage of St Valentine with romantic love is relatively recent, perhaps around the fourteenth century. It is certainly apparent that many of these rituals now associated with February 14th will have been manufactured by contemporary commercial interests with an obvious eye alas on profit rather than love or lust. 

Of these rituals, there is one which I often puzzle over – and that is the sending (or alternatively the receipt) of the anonymous Valentine’s card.

Most of the practices around Valentine’s Day seem appropriate. We make sure that those we are enamoured with, intrigued by, married to or simply in some form of tenuous romantic relationship with, receive evidence of our affection by the despatch (or receipt) of traditional tokens, from roses to chocolates and cards.  Our words are seen to be reinforced by our deeds.

But this practice of despatching an anonymous Valentine card?   To send a card but deliberately disguise the origin of the sender? At first sight this seems a little odd. Anonymous communications can carry malevolent undertones. But an anonymous Valentine’s card?  It is certainly likely to provoke some rather interesting reflections on both the likely motives of the sender and also on the thoughts of the receiver of the card. 

For example, if I am delusional enough to think that someone has a romantic/erotic yearning for me (and with sparse greying hair and more wrinkles than the a prize winning Sha Pei at Crufts we know that is not going to happen but let’s suspend disbelief in order to just develop the idea!)  and I also receive an anonymous Valentine card, it is possible that I may make a link between the two, the card and this other individual

That association could be either right or wrong.  I have no way of being certain about the assumption I have made unless I actually ask the person concerned and I am given an answer. If I do so and the response is affirmative then was the card necessary in the first place as I was already aware of the other.

What purpose did the card serve?   Is there something about the sense of intrigue?  Or it was just to nudge me into taking action or making some form of contact with the other? Is that encouragement to action, conscious or subconscious the reason?  Or is this all just too rational an interpretation? 

An interesting link from these ad hoc musings about the anonymous Valentine card across to counselling work inside the therapy room is around the issue of what is known and what is not known.  Within the therapy room all I ever know about a client comes from what the client tells me. That communication can be overt through the spoken word, or suggested by visible signs such as calmness, agitation, body language or clothing. Even if the information offered seems clear I may often check just to ensure that my interpretation is rooted in fact and is not just an erroneous assumption.

Perhaps another link is also through the common currency of relationships.  Therapy is about a relationship.  That is evident irrespective of the modality be that CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) Psychodynamic work, or Solution Focused work. Therapy is two people working together to explore, to understand and to consider a way forward. Therapy is about questioning. It is concerned with assumptions, interpretations, hypothesis and the development of a creative experience. It involves trust and acceptance. Therapy is also about checking, testing and risking. 

Back in the early days of psychotherapy much of the work in the traditional therapy room was about exploring the unknown, of bringing into daylight that which had been lurking in the unconscious albeit with a sometimes malign or disruptive influence.  The unknown was to be made visible. Understanding then brought enlightenment and the disruptive impact diminished. Or at least that was the theory.

Of course it may now be suggested on some occasions the unknown is be better left alone. Nevertheless the world including our inner world is a fascinating place and there to be explored - and exploration of any sort carries a risk. Therapy is no exception 

Back to Valentine’s Day.  Perhaps that potential process is also present when that anonymous valentine’s card is sent or received. It can be seen as an invitation to exploration. The despatcher sends out a signal and the recipient can choose how to respond to this.

There may just be mild curiosity or as the recipient we may be so moved as to actively search out the sender. If we do begin to seek, then an exploration process has been inexorably set in train. This also means that we then need to be prepared to deal with the consequences of that process.

All rather serious stuff so perhaps we should conclude on a lighter note.

There are probably a myriad of reasons why anonymous cards are sent and we are free to choose those ideas which works best for each of us.  Perhaps one of the reasons can just that it is a fun and slightly mischievous thing to do. It is a way of brightening someone’s day or very gently teasing them.

So whatever the cause, reason or effect I hope you receive on 14th February whatever it is you wish to receive – be that a single, a profusion or an absence of cards and be these signed or otherwise! 

 

By
Geoff Boutle

added on 1st February 2016

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