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  • Writer's picturesarahfishburnrober

Unsafe Neighbourhoods

In his 2003 memoir, Dry, Augusten Burroughs writes: “think of your head as an unsafe neighbourhood; don’t go there alone.”

Yet go there alone we do, because inviting someone else to our neighbourhood is a risky proposition. This may seem a strange assertion to make, given that most of us would claim to have at least one or two authentic relationships in our lives. From a cultural and therapeutic perspective though, having a separate space and another person with whom we can be frank, vulnerable and downright difficult with, on a consistent basis, and without repercussions, is not something most of us experience - except in childhood, if we were fortunate enough to have attuned and regulated parents.

Furthermore, now, as adults, we are generally expected to behave in acceptable, rational ways (whatever that means). So we worry that we are taking up too much time, or that our problems are too trivial and our secrets too shameful for anyone else’s ears.

This photograph is of an art installation by Random International called Rain Room. In a darkened expanse, you walk through a downpour of continuous rain without getting wet, thanks to some magically responsive technology that prevents the water from falling above a detected human presence. When you look up, you see a water-less circle above you, halo-like, protective, while all around the rain falls.

It is a mesmerising, affecting experience, the perfect metaphor for therapy. In your circular sanctuary you are safe from the rain. You can see it, and comment on it, and feel it, but it doesn’t have the power to drench you. In the words of Isaiah, you can walk through the water and not drown.

In counselling, the therapist creates a refuge and then waits, patiently, for her client to join her. In-depth psychotherapy is a sacred space in which the rain of life can be explored and transformed, and where unconscious fantasies and impulses are brought to light. Tears can flow and shame melt into self-compassion, facilitated and held by the safety of the therapeutic relationship. As the poet Robert Creeley puts it so beautifully: “What did I know thinking myself able to go alone all the way.”

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