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Beyond the self.

Psychotherapy — admin @ 4:57 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been having a debate about what the goal of therapy might be. Our discussion arises out of questions we are often asked as to how exactly therapy works. People ask us what it involves; how the weekly sessions might go and where it leads to. Often the reasons for someone attending therapy have to do with difficulties in coping with their work or romantic lives. Sometimes they report a kind of dull feeling of dissatisfaction and a sense of a directionless or unfulfilling existence. We have been considering things recently from the perspective of the aloneness of the individual in relation all aspects of the world.

Therapy is first and foremost an individual process. You come on your own each week and you talk about yourself. You might talk about your childhood and your relationship with you mother or father. You can spend some time considering your relations with brothers and sisters and with friends. The focus is on the paths that these significant attachments take and how their ups and downs inform our subsequent ways of being. The focus of the therapy is very much on the self and our feelings; our hurts and our reactions to things. After we spend some time working through these things we hope to learn about our own patterns of behaviour.

Sometimes therapy works a bit like an archaeological dig in that we begin with the deposits from the most recent events and work backwards through time to earlier ones. Past events can be seen to exert an influence over how things develop from there. Learning about how we might repeat the patterns of the past becomes a big part of therapy. We talk about these things and sometimes have moments of insight where we can see deep inside our own self. But therapy is not just about our own self. In the first instance all these personal explorations are done in the presence of another: the therapist. We are relational beings and we develop and live to the full when we achieve good relations with others.

To some extent individual therapy is about working out a hypothesis of our own inner life. It is in relationships outside of therapy where we put this to the test. Our work and love lives are the places where we try to put into practice what learn in our therapy. We work things out in the privacy of the therapy room and even test them out on the therapist. One aim of therapy then would be to try to work firstly on our relationship with our own self. This is done in the presence of and with an active relationship with the therapist. Good relations with the world may mean working things out on several levels including bringing meaning and purpose into our daily lives. Each of us has to work out these values for ourselves. This is a personal journey but not one which requires that we have to go it alone.

Counselling Connections.

Self reproach in Depression.

Depression — admin @ 1:08 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we continued an ongoing discussion about aspects of depression. We have been looking at the different ways in which depression comes about and trying to identify and separate out aspects of the process that may lead to one of us becoming depressed. Today we want to look at another aspect of our inner critic and the role it plays in depression. We spoke about our inner critic a little while ago and how we believe it is developed throughout childhood. Our inner critic can become our harshest citric and this is central to what happens in depression.

Ordinarily our personality seems to be in a state of balance. One the one side are our hopes and dreams. These tend to be positive and creative and provide the energy for us to achieve things. When things are going well we see meaning and purpose in everyday life. We can maintain a kind of momentum; focusing on daily tasks and feeling generally satisfied with life. The contents of our inner critic can represent the opposing forces to this creative energy and sense of contentment. From time to time something can happen to knock these opposing forces out of balance. When the hopeful side of our personality takes a step back we can be left feeling undefended in the face of the forces of our inner critic.

This can feel like the whole world is against us. One of the most difficult aspects of this is that it becomes internalised. What may have begun with some difficulties or disappointments in our external world becomes an internal struggle. It is as if the reverses we suffer in our working or romantic lives become aligned in our minds with the parts of us that are critical of our own self. We can then retreat from the world in a state of depression as we try to deal with the pain and tend to our emotional wounds. It can feel like there is no escape from a negative view of the world as we try to cope with self reproach. This state of being can become quite fixed. It can evolve into a cycle which we struggle with for years but never quite seem to escape.

Our view of depression is central to the way we practice. An ongoing task in therapy is to try to understand this dynamic internal process of expectation and disappointment. We spend a good deal of time examining these things and trying to understand them. Some practical, short-term therapeutic techniques involve tuning in to our negative thought processes. The idea is that we become more aware of how we are thinking and how this affects how we feel and behave. We can set about challenging these negative thoughts of self reproach that we experience in depression.

A longer term therapeutic approach is to delve into these matters more deeply and to become aware of them at a fundamental level. The goal here is to really get to know the different aspects of our inner life. We can spend some time remembering and reflecting on significant relationships and events from our past. We may identify patterns in how we have responded to these in similar ways over time. We may then get a clearer picture as to what we may really have been trying to achieve or overcome. This will help in building up an inner strength and a sense of confidence in our self. A cycle of becoming fixed in periods of self reproach can be broken in this way. Depression can be overcome by a growing belief in our self and the world which is secure in the face of the opposing forces of self reproach.

Counselling Connections Dundalk.

Routine, purpose and meaning.

Counselling — admin @ 8:18 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week it has all been about settling back into the routine after the holiday. The New Year begins in earnest for many when the kids go back to school. And the return to school has thrown up some interesting asides: from parents and children alike. One mum told of how she had been really looking forward to the kids going back to school. Cabin fever had begun to settle in over the last days of the holidays. The weather wasn’t good and the children were getting tetchy being cooped up in the house. That cry that drives the average parent mad ‘I’m bored’ was heard more and more. And the reply ‘why don’t you clean your room’ got the usual unwelcome response. School, it seems offered the chance of an antidote to these ills.

One of the issues that people faced was an increase in the ordinary feelings of dread experienced on a Sunday night in anticipation of the week ahead. It’s that feeling that many of us get early evening on Sundays which is a throwback to the days when a thought of homework, banished since Friday afternoon, pops into your head. Thoughts of homework not yet done resonate even into adulthood long after any homework is still required. We think this affects people in their work; especially where work hours mirror the school week. Indeed we may get into a habit of repeating these routines without thinking about them. That’s where we come in. It is part of our work the help people become aware of these things and to consider what the purpose of it all is.

These are questions that are naturally faced at this time of year. In fact, there is some evidence that questions around the purpose of daily routine rise in September too, mirroring the cycle of the school year. This week we have heard from mothers who found that, despite the length of the holiday, they really missed their kids when they went back to school. They describe feelings of loss. We have also heard from school children who dreaded the return of class and who really struggled with facing into it again. The same goes for many people who returned to work this week. Some reported minor illnesses and aches and pains as they tried to adjust back to the weekly routine.

This all raises questions about the purpose of our routine and maybe even whether we can find meaning in everyday tasks. It’s clear that not everybody feels this dread work or school. It is quite amazing how much activity a person can fit into their week when they are focused on a particular goal. Sometimes this goal is a medium term thing that can be achieved in a matter of months. Sometimes it is a project that can take years’ like for example a university degree. And maybe this kind of thinking can also add meaning to a sort of purpose in life which we carry with us through all kinds of ups and downs. This may be a goal that has to do with the way we live our life, one which might be difficult to define or describe clearly in words.

There is something to be found in daily existence that makes routine at least bearable and maybe even enjoyable. It could be that we will never again experience that Sunday evening dread if we look forward to our work or our learning schedule. The secret seems to be in having a reason that we are aware of in the moment for the task we are doing. Each little day to day assignment and interaction becomes a building block, a small part of something we are building. These things which we used to dread become meaningful because we understand that they form one part of picture which we are painting. When we stand back and look at it we can admire what we have achieved and where our effort has taken us. It seems that if we became aware of what we would like to achieve, if we are in tune with it and can make a plan to get there we can live a more purposeful and meaningful life.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

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