Do you have a persistent feeling that changes need to be made in you and in your life? Are you dissatisfied with aspects of yourself, your work, your relationships? Has the last year of lockdowns amplified all this, perhaps giving you time to really think? If so, springtime, with its promise this year of light at the end of the tunnel, may not be a bad time to consider doing something about it.
Spring is launched with the Christian festival of Easter. The story behind that, centring on the trial, execution and resurrection of Jesus, contains themes of good emerging from bad, transformation of life and reconciliation (between God and humanity). There’s also something about similarity and difference as people encountering Jesus after the resurrection sometimes fail to recognize him at first. He’s no longer quite the same.
Whether or not we have an interest or belief in that Christian story of the first Easter, the themes also exist in a different way in psychotherapy.
Good out of bad
Psychotherapy has at its heart the belief that the destructiveness of past events need not have the last word and that good can emerge from bad. In this case the bad often lies in experiences from childhood and teenage years. Those experiences can do lasting damage although we may not be fully aware of that. All we may know is that something isn’t quite right and that we’re unhappy. In fact, what may have happened is that the painful experiences have lodged deep down inside us – far out of sight – where they continue to influence our lives for the worse.
Someone who’s had parents who weren’t attuned to them, for instance, may grow up with a deep sense of loneliness and frustration. Or a person who had a violent father may unwittingly keep finding themselves in relationships with people who hurt them or else they may inexplicably shy away from intimate relationships altogether.
Although there can be no guarantees, psychotherapy offers the possibility of real transformation. It’s not uncommon for people in therapy to find that, through talking over a period of time, they’re set free from the pain or trauma of past events, from misery-inducing ways of thinking, feeling or relating and sometimes from physical symptoms that have no obvious medical cause. A wide range of conditions can be treated in therapy including depression, anxiety, loneliness, isolation, stress, obsessiveness, self-defeating behaviour and issues around anger, conflict, guilt, shame, confidence and self-esteem.
Therapy may unlock prison doors by bringing what has been buried in the deepest, darkest recesses of the mind into the light of day where it loses something of its power.
In the process, people may also be strengthened so they can survive blows from life that would previously have knocked them flat. All in all, psychotherapy is about personal growth and self-development. It helps us get more out of life and sometimes people go into therapy simply because they feel unfulfilled or feel that somehow their creativity isn’t flowing as it should.
One effect of therapy can, on occasion, be for a person to strive for reconciliation in their own lives – sometimes with those who have been the very authors of their difficulties. At a deeper level, individuals in therapy are often also engaged in reconciliation with themselves – forgiving themselves, finding acceptance or resolving conflicts brought about by opposing forces inside them.
The same but different
If it goes well, psychotherapy may bring about quite a profound change in the way a person feels about themselves and others and in the way they react to various situations. Not surprisingly, that change may be recognized by those around them. People emerge from therapy still themselves but no longer quite the same. In the case of group therapy, for example, it’s been said that every group changes the individual who joins it and every individual changes the group.
After psychotherapy, we still carry the scars of things that have been done to us because therapy can’t make the past un-happen. But hopefully we are just talking about scars now, not open wounds. Scars don’t hurt so much.
Time to put yourself first?
This spring may be an opportunity for you to consider investing in yourself through therapy. Making yourself the priority. Making yourself the project. It’s about going on a journey of exploration, healing and growth. A journey whose intended destination is being more fully alive. On a practical note, quite a few of us therapists are still working online until the Covid restrictions make it safe to return to in-person work. Don't let that put you off. I've been offering therapy one-to-one and in small groups of up to eight people for over a year now and I can tell you that the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. A really surprising amount of good and powerful work can be done.
So therapy may be may be time well spent for you. After all, somebody once said that the intended gift of Easter is hope. The Easter season lasts fifty days. Why not make the most of it?
© Brian Shand 2021
Find more of my blogs here: https://www.guildfordtherapy.co.uk/blog/