Enquiries about starting counselling surge around the Christmas and New Year period. This is often attributed to the fact that Christmas generally involves prolonged exposure to family members whom we prefer to avoid; it’s stressful, debt-inducing, exhausting and so on.
All these things are true, but it may help to conceive of this time, from the Winter Solstice through to spring, in spiritual and psychological terms. The Christmas break, when most of the UK stops working, forces us to slow down. It is difficult not to take stock of the past year, to engage in some introspection, and as a consequence, to wonder if there aren’t things we might like to change about our lives. Or if we are desperately struggling, and what a lot of us are this Christmas, with bereavement, addiction, illness, we might look at change with baffled eyes: “I can’t change anything, it’s hopeless.”
This time of withdrawal and darkness offers space. And strange as it may sound, the therapy room offers the same space that is precisely what is required for change to occur.
The problem is that, at New Year, we tackle our desire for change in a wrong-headed way. The Gestalt model of therapy argues for the paradoxical theory of change, namely that until we accept who we are, change cannot take place. The more we try to be something we’re not, the more stuck we will be. The decision never to speak to your brother again because he is selfish and ignorant will seem like a courageous one on January 1st, but if you haven’t examined the minutiae of that relationship and your part in its dynamics, then it is doomed to disaster. You will need an Other with whom to conduct the examination. Within the therapeutic frame, you will find space to let go of the old and discover the new, but from the position of a deeply felt, known sense of self. In T S Eliot’s words, “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of our exploring will be to arrive at where we started and know the place for the first time.”
In therapy, in spiritual practice, this exploration is carried out with an Other, in relationship. So take heart: you need not be alone in 2019.