This week, several clients have told me that they are finding lockdown difficult but feel they cannot complain about it because other people are struggling far more.
This is a perennial objection to therapy in general. We think that if we had a ‘normal’ childhood (whatever that means) and have not endured a series of awful tragedies, then counselling is a self-indulgent luxury.
Yet here we all are in this third lockdown, anxious and stressed perhaps, or angry or bored or grieving… but unable, or choosing not to seek the psychological support that could help us in this time of profound loss and compromise.
One obstacle is the shame we feel about not handling life as well as we think we should. In a competitive world where our productivity is prized above almost everything, it’s easy to feel that we are failing. Therapy is one way of stepping out of this unforgiving mindset, because it focuses not on what we perceive others to require of us, but what we truly feel and who we actually are. It’s a space of wondering, exploration and openness to possibility.
William Blake’s sketch of his house at Felpham seems to encapsulate therapy’s ability to embrace the mundane and the mysterious. Everything looks normal, except for the angel in the sky. This is not a poetic symbol or allegorical figure. Blake really did see angels, and other supposedly chimerical creatures too.
We therapists cannot promise celestial encounters. We can promise, however, that in therapy you will start to see things that you’ve never seen before. You will see and know things that other people don’t yet see and know, and maybe never will, because you are touching your own precious inner reality. Things that are considered strange, ‘wrong’ or ridiculous in the world are taken seriously in counselling, and treated with a curiosity that vivifies and clarifies their meanings.
You don’t have to reach crisis point to begin therapy. Struggling with this lockdown is a legitimate starting point, no matter how privileged you think you are. Only then will you be able to take a Blakean view of your predicament and imbue your prosaic struggles with the sublime significance they deserve.