The soil we are sown in
“Addiction runs in the family.” “She’s just like her father.” “It’s just the way I am.” These, and many other similar statements, are frequently heard in the therapy room. A good counsellor, it should go without saying, believes otherwise. For one thing, our brains are a lot less reliable than we like to think, and extremely vulnerable to misinformation. It is widely accepted that our early years learning, for example, especially in the pre-verbal months, has a disproportionate impact on brain development. We absorb all kinds of messages and signals from our care givers and frequently come to erroneous conclusions. Then, our brains use these early relationships to shape our perceptions of the intentions and feelings of people in the present. We think we are responding in the here and now, but we are not. Our brains are busy scanning for historical evidence and reaching hasty conclusions. This is why clients come to therapy complaining that they don’t understand why their relationships are unsatisfactory. They can’t find a reason for the discord, or the arguments or the lack of suitable partners or friends. They have no conscious recollection of anything that could give reasons for their misery. This is where therapy comes in. In Louis Cozolino’s words, “through the security of a safe relationship, something new can be introduced into a previously closed and dysfunctional system.” The therapist can see things that the client cannot, she can challenge her client’s assumptions and make new connections, and together client and counsellor can construct a new narrative that is more integrated and reflexive. We are in part made by the soil we are sown in, but we are also remarkably adaptive creatures, with malleable brains and an instinct for growth. This is why therapy works and why there is always hope, even for the most ‘stuck’ client.