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Listen Carefully and Other Tales from the Therapy Room

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The therapist uncovered - ten tantalising tales from the therapy room to make you laugh, cry, and reflect.An intriguing collection of compelling stories that expose our most private and personal concerns: sex and sexuality; death and dying; relationships and identity.Challenging, disturbing and humorous, this collection is a must-read.

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Listen carefully

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Listen carefully

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nd you can stuff your poxy therapy right up your fat arse!” screamed Holly, slamming the door behind her and stomping (as much as a bovver-booted stick insect could stomp) down the stairs. This seemed rather unfair.

I would readily admit to a few extra pounds but my backside could hardly be described as fat. Nonetheless, I resolved again to exercise more, telling myself that this decision was entirely independent of Holly’s remark. Thinking of whom, I realised

I had not yet heard the front door shut. After a short silence, there came the sound of feet treading softly back upstairs. “I’m sorry,” she whispered as she peered tentatively round the door.

“Can I come back?”

I noticed with some relief that she had reverted to her indigenous, privately educated accent instead of what she called her “street speak”, impressed as ever that she could go from

County to Estuary at the drop of a hat (usually one she considered me to have dropped). “This is your session,” I replied evenly. “There are about twenty minutes left.” She sidled back to her seat on the sofa (the slight indentation giving only a vague indication that she’d been there before), closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths, releasing them slowly. This was

 

Uncoupled

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Uncoupled

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crucial quality required of a therapist working with couples is that of neutrality—unfortunately, I just don’t have it. I worked with couples for many years but I was always aware of struggling hard not to favour one member of the couple over the other. In time, it proved impossible

(and, I had to admit, unethical) for me to continue even to try.

It reached a point where no sooner had a couple entered my consulting room than I would find myself taking sides. With straight couples my allegiance was more often than not with the female rather than the male partner. Faced with an emotionally literate and reflective woman alongside an emotionally stunted man who if he could string more than two words together at all would rather be talking about the stock market or the Championship League Table, it seemed obvious to me to say to the woman, “This guy is a waste of space! Get the hell out now!” I didn’t actually say this of course but I undoubtedly thought it, and this is not the sort of attitude they teach you on the Relate course.

 

Woody Bay

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Woody Bay

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e sit in silence for some time as we have done quite frequently. It’s comfortable. There’s no urgency to fill the space, no sense of time being wasted. Rather, we bask in the passing moments and find solace there. Even

Emily’s slightly laboured breathing seems to contribute a meditative rhythm to our shared reverie. My chest rises and falls in unison with her breath. Time passes and yet stands still.

Emily is dying. For three years, despite knowing the poor prognosis for someone in her eighties, she underwent the toxic invasion of chemotherapy. Following several periods of treatment, remission and relapse, she resigned herself to living with cancer and two years ago came into therapy with me to support her in “living towards death” as she put it. Having never drunk, smoked or taken drugs in her eighty-seven years, she is now dependent on morphine for pain relief. Yet, with a glint in her eye, she refers to herself as a “late-blooming smack head”, with no complaint of unfairness at her fate.

 

Super vision

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Super vision

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f Sophie was an animal, what would she be?” asked my supervisor before I’d given any details beyond my client’s name. This exercise was one Christine often used when I introduced a new client in supervision. Actually, Sophie had been with me for some months; it was just that so far I hadn’t found immediate cause to present her. Other clients had pressed preferentially for time and attention by the greater degree of difficulty I was experiencing with them. Perhaps this said something about Sophie. She was so undemanding in life, she could easily get overlooked. I didn’t want that to happen in our work, and while she would never know if I discussed her with my supervisor or not, I would know and I was sure that this could affect our work together, however subtly.

Guessing that Christine was likely to employ this technique,

I’d come prepared. I’d even thought of Sophie as a type of flower, a tree, a mode of transport, a colour and a building, just in case. Trying to sound spontaneous, I answered instantly,

 

Different again

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Different again

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t felt odd calling him Junior given he was in his late 50s and not diminutive in any way, shape, or form. He was the tallest and most muscular man I’d ever met and intimidating simply by being the mass that he was. Despite his physical presence, anyone less imposing was hard to imagine. He spoke with a soft, lilting voice that was reassuring and mesmeric, his

Jamaican patois and inflection noticeable only occasionally when it punctuated his educated, received pronunciation. On the phone I hadn’t picked up on this slight intonation and I’d imagined him to be white. On meeting with him in person I asked him straight off how it might be for him to work with a white therapist.

“Dat’s why mi deh yah,” he sang, seeming to deliberately emphasise the patois before reverting to RP. “You have to be white to help me with my issue.”

My curiosity was instantly aroused. “And that is?” I asked.

“Racism,” he replied.

“Ah,” I said, words failing me for a moment as I tried to get my head around what he might be meaning and how therapy might help. I thought it easiest just to ask.

 

The thrownness of life

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The thrownness of life

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ince I heard about Anna, I’ve been thinking a lot about her: about lives and chance, about the arbitrariness of existence. The phrase “an accident of birth” keeps coming into my mind but it’s not quite right. More accurately, it’s an accident of conception. For Anna, this was the random encounter of a sperm with an egg (the odds against this particular pairing running into zillions) between a sixteen-yearold schizophrenic schoolgirl and a depressed forty-year-old man on a rundown estate in a rundown town where, rumour has it, inbreeding is not uncommon. Not an auspicious start to a life, to be thrown into that particular mix. And the rest of it was nothing to write home about—not that she would have written, as neither of her parents could read, nor were they interested.

Anna, overweight and unkempt, was in her mid-thirties when she came into therapy with me. She appeared for each session in almost the same drab, ill-fitting clothes that even a charity shop would think twice about accepting. She looked so impoverished; the question of how she would pay for her therapy was something we needed to address from the start.

 

Armadillo

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Armadillo

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t had snowed for three days and dense, heavy flakes continued to fall. The valley was so white it was hard to distinguish tree from field except occasionally when the dark, moving speck of a distant cow helped make out one from the other. It was a beautiful sight but my delight in it was tinged with concern. The access to my house, and therefore my consulting room, down the steep lane from the village was nigh on impossible. Most of my clients had made it for their sessions in the previous two days by parking at the top and walking tentatively down the final stretch, but by Wednesday morning the previous snow had turned to ice and walking up or down the lane was treacherous.

My first client of the day was happy to be offered a telephone session. The next preferred a video call. Both had phoned earlier, having checked the local roads, to discuss these arrangements and had kept their usual times. But I hadn’t yet heard from Chris, my eleven o’clock client, as I waited near the phone a few minutes before the hour, anticipating that he would call from his home some thirty miles away.

 

Seven deadly sins

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Seven deadly sins

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wake myself up screaming “No!” and lie there trembling for some minutes trying to remember what I’ve been dreaming about. But dreams need to be exited slowly and gently if their convoluted meanderings are to be transmitted from unconscious imagination to a conscious mind seeking sense. My sudden awakening erases all trace of what has been going on in my fantasy world, leaving only a sense of having been through something challenging. Whatever it was that had led to my frightened and imploring scream is not forthcoming despite my attempts to insert possibilities—hooded attackers, stampeding monsters, devastating news—into the void.

It’s not a good start to a busy day, and the feelings of dread and frustration remain with me as I dress quickly, breakfast on the hoof, and read through my emails, most of which I condemn to the trash without the usual satisfaction I get from hearing the scrunching sound as they disappear. Even walking through the woods with my dog in the bright morning sunlight does not manage to alleviate my disturbed state as it normally might. I just have to hope I can bracket off this sense of unease well enough to work with my clients.

 

Let’s face it

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Let’s face it

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hen I first meet with a client I don’t charge a fee.

I know it’s still my working time but I see this initial session akin to someone buying a house, or clothes for that matter: the potential customer having a look around the house, or trying on suits, before deciding if it’s quite right for them. I encourage prospective clients to shop around to find a therapist with whom they feel comfortable and yet challenged enough to form a good enough “fit”. After all, it’s a working relationship that, like a house or a suit, may need to be lived in for several years. But following this advice could be an expensive business if several therapists are being visited and require payment for an initial interview, so I feel I’m doing my bit to alleviate the expense by this no-fee policy.

The analogy weakens when I look at it the other way around, referring as I am to a mutual assessment. I too like to have the freedom to judge whether working together might be feasible and I’m not sure a house-seller or shop assistant has the same freedom to turn away customers. But I want the facility to decline to work with a client, and I think I’d feel uncomfortable taking their money and rejecting them at the same time.

 

Tales out of school

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Listen Carefully to “elderly”) practitioner in this postmodern world.

I shall endeavour to answer them with the candor you request of me. For your part,

I ask simply that you take what I write as my current personal views and that you treat them as something merely to consider, play with, challenge, and refute in your quest for finding your own perspective. Be warned that

I tend to loquaciousness when invited to pontificate on these matters. Luckily, you can merely stop reading and I’ll never know.

It seems unbelievable (to me at least) that

I’ve been a psychotherapist for about forty years and in that time must have worked with several hundreds of clients and read equally as many books on the subject of psychotherapy. I mention these facts not as a boast or an argument toward the necessity of my retirement but because, though I greatly enjoy both, the correlation between clients and theory often eludes me. I wonder if you have discovered this too and whether this is part of your feeling perplexed?

 

Reflections

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Reflections

I hope these short stories have been enjoyable for you to read, simply as entertaining tales. Additionally, I hope you will enjoy reflecting on them to discover how they may be helpful to you in your learning and development as a therapist. Each of the stories raises issues and challenges that might be faced by anyone preparing to engage, or already engaged, in the practice of counselling and psychotherapy. Maybe you’ve been critically assessing the style and interventions of the therapist as you’ve been reading each story, and considering your own approach to these clients and the issues they present—in particular, identifying what you would have done or said differently. To assist your personal considerations and to stimulate discussion with your peers and colleagues, I draw attention below to some of the key challenges of each story and provide some questions for you to reflect upon from your own theoretical perspective.

Where appropriate, I suggest further reading to explore these issues in more detail, and refer to textbooks on specific theoretical and technical aspects in which you may be interested.

 

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