With apologies to The Supremes who sang “You can’t Hurry Love“, this version came to me during a session with a client last week. I don’t think it is quite as compelling as the original, but the sentiments are important.
We can often give a good estimation of recovery times for a range of physical health problems, but it is notoriously difficult to do this for psychological problems. Clients, perhaps influenced by friends and family, usually have unrealistic expectations about how long the process of recovery can be. When they see that they are not recovering within these timescales, they often become more anxious and depressed. The pressing need to recover becomes an additional stress which, unsurprisingly, becomes a mantle that weighs them down further and contributes to a sense of hopelessness.
My message is an attempt to help clients put this mantle aside. I have likened recovery to a seedling taking root or to a flower blossoming. These natural processes unfold in nature’s time, but they can sometimes be helped along a little by tender care from the gardener. In this sense, therapy can be seen as a kind of fertiliser to promote the growth of recovery.
Luckily for my clients, I have not yet attempted to sing nor turned up to a session in gardening gloves.
The past often casts a long shadow over the lives of people who have survived childhood trauma, like a tall tree blocking the rays of a slowly setting autumn sun. The world can seem dark and cold within this umbra, a long path stretching into the future.
Therapy can often help a little light and warmth get through, tickling the long shadow with penumbral greys before giving way to more vibrant colours. The work is not easy, often requiring the metaphorical use of safety helmets and harnesses as branches are cut back and the tree is reduced in size. Complete removal of the tree is not really an option, it is part of the landscape of the person’s life, and the roots reach deep into the earth.
It is not always necessary or desirable to tackle the tree directly. Sometimes, therapy can be most helpful when it shows the client that stepping sideways out of the shadow is often an option, a solution which also affords the opportunity of viewing the tree from a different perspective – to see it with an adult’s eyes.
I remember the fun I used to have sliding down the long corridor in my grandmother’s house when I was a child. As an adult, it was a short passage of two or three paces linking the kitchen and bathroom.
Clients come to the clinic with complicated psychological problems. This is particularly so when their use of drugs and/or alcohol impacts on other problems such as anxiety, depression and PTSD. It takes sensitive and skillful questioning to try to deternmine how their difficulties interact with each other, to find out which came first, to find possible causal links and thereby to develop a collaborative strategy to help the client make the necessary changes in their thinking and behaviour.
Psychological therapy can thus be seen as a form of tapestry – tracing how the individual threads combine to create a picture of distress, identifying the point at which it needs to be unpicked so the whole does not unravel, and knowing how to incorporate a new motif that will create harmony and longevity.