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May Day Counselling - Celebration or Conflagration ?

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Mayday. The first of May.  I am writing this note on one of the more evocative days of the year.  A day of contrasts.  A traditional day of celebration across Europe. A day when spring starts to welcome summer. A day which is usually marked with festivities of varying hues.

Mayday provokes very different images particularly in the British psyche. The traditional May fairs suggest the unchanging village green with slightly eccentric Morris dancers and vaguely virginal maidens dancing around a rather wobbly May pole bedecked with bunting left over from previous years: an activity which is clearly not to be confused with the more ambiguous pole dancing located in somewhat more urban settings. The May fair. The very picture of a village idyll oozing rustic charm and with a pervading sense of gentle tranquillity which is perhaps only ever threatened if one lives close to the fabled cluster of Midsomer hamlets.

Compare that scene to the Mayday of the revolution. Workers linking arms like a chorus of escapees from Les Miserables, boisterously singing the Internationale and resplendent with red flags waving ready to welcome the overthrow of the ancien regime. Potential class conflict with organised labour celebrating the potential power of a disorganised union movement. Syndicalists, Marxists and revolutionaries escaping from the confines of the late nineteenth century to wreak fear and havoc on the bloated capitalist class.  Or something similar.

Mayday; and each of the above are celebrations of the first of May but both have a very different ethos.  

A similar and equally dramatic difference - assuming of course that one is allowed by the contemporary language police to talk of ‘similar differences’ - is reflected within the counselling world.

There can be varying reflections of counselling work. Clients may walk into the therapy room because of a personal tranquillity that has been abruptly disrupted by sudden change, such as the loss of a relationship, the illness of a loved one or some form of betrayal or abuse. The expected cycle of life has been disturbed and emotions stirred into an uncomfortable dance. Life seems to be out of control and support is sought within therapy to help the individual restore a sense of balance. There is a need for calm within the storm.

Others can venture into the therapy room from a very different direction. What for some is tranquillity may represent boredom for others. Rather than avoid revolution some clients come into counselling to actively strengthen their resolve to find change and escape the tedium of a yesterday and tomorrow which ticks remorselessly onward with the monotony of a discordant metronome.  Change somewhere or somehow is sought and there is an increasing need to a find a path away from that dullness which has become intolerable.

As with the fresh dawning of each new Mayday, clients can find the counselling room as a place with potential. It represents a boundaried location and each session like Mayday lasts for a fixed known time. But like Mayday the counselling room can also invite very diverse uses and outcomes.

That difference can be reflected in the process as well as the outcome.   Much contemporary therapy places an immediate emphasis on action. Structured activity may be expected with the hope that well modelled techniques such as those within CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) or some short term solution focussed therapy will provide a quick solution and an immediate easing of distress.

If that instant cure is sought and it is available then perhaps it should be taken. Nevertheless a precursor to a long lasting cure may not necessarily be the application of a specific technique but instead the attainment of a broader understanding of what has occurred. The therapy room can provide a safe place for reflection which can facilitate understanding and inform change. Although some short term counselling work is seen as encouraging an urgent move to some form of resolution, some clients may find that lasting change is more likely to result from a deeper sense of self awareness. That mirrors the general practice of therapies such as psychodynamic counselling.

Certainly the celebration of Mayday whether tranquil or tempestuous can only be fully understood within a historical context. The same road to understanding may also be true of some of the personal challenges we face as individuals.  Our past can inform the present as well as our future; and lessons ignored may invite some form of uncomfortable repetition.

The counselling room offers equal opportunities to all clients whether one is seeking a gentle resolution of personal angst or a tumultuous revolution. One outcome can be the application of set techniques and strategies focussed on a specific concern whilst another may employ a more discursive way to achieving fundamental change in the way life is experienced.

A constant challenge within today’s counselling room is to reconcile the increasing demand for outcomes to be measured with the reality that some experiences are difficult to quantify. One example is the belief held by activists that actual experience and the act of doing can themselves become valuable learning opportunities  Many within the counselling world have long recognised that the very act of finding the courage to walk into a room and talk about oneself to a stranger who will listen and not judge, can be a powerful cathartic force.

It may be that like those attending May fairs, or Mayday demonstration, the most important first move for some clients will be simply that of active participation in the counselling process.  Irrespective of how one views the encounter within the therapy room, perhaps the key to personal development lies in actual participation in the process itself, whatever form that takes.  

Whether we are on the village green or on the barricades, action is experience and participation encourages an existential understanding of our place in the world.  Within the therapy room experience in the process of counselling may also invoke and enrich a personal understanding of life.   And if that understanding can be achieved who knows what will follow.



Geoff Boutle

added on 1st May 2013

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