Our latest article has been published in the Chiswick Herald, read it here or see below:
How does that make you feel?
I’ve been listening to this Radio 4 series where you hear psychotherapist, Martha, in sessions with patients. The first thing I found myself wanting to do was find out whether it is classed as a drama or a comedy - I was relieved to find that opinion by reviewers appears divided, that it is not seen as pure drama or an attempt to depict therapy in real life.
But ask me how I felt about listening to “How does it make you feel?” and my answer is disappointed and feeling less confident that therapy is being understood and embraced - you find me disheartened.
The title itself set alarm bells ringing for me. I can’t claim to never ask my patients “How does that make you feel?” because sometimes I might, but therapy is not just about getting to people to talk about their feelings. It is a common misconception which does nothing to encourage people to view therapy in a positive light. It’s not the only misconception, others include that people need to talk about their feelings, that men in particular are less likely to talk about them than women and/or it is a British thing not to talk about feelings. The problem with these concepts is that they put across such a simplified view of people and therapy that for anyone struggling, therapy might be seen as nothing more than a placebo.
In reality therapy addresses how we make sense and act upon the information given to us by our lived experience - feelings are just one element. Information is also available to us through our thinking, our bodily sensations, our dreams and our interactions with others and the world around us. There is no rule book as to how much importance we should give to each of these components but in therapy we work with our patients to identify how life is being understood and how this understanding is put into action. We then look together at the struggles that have brought them to therapy and look for connections and solutions.
So it is not just about feelings. It is also not just about being able to talk about feelings because research indicates that as little as 7 percent of communication is verbal - body language and tone of voice being far greater conveyors of information. It is natural for us to embody how we are and what we want and for us to understand how we do that but also how other people, especially those who are most important to us, is hugely valuable.
And it is important to remember that therapy is about understanding ourselves AND others. When we improve understanding of ourselves we can be better at understanding others, likewise when we better understand others then that helps our understanding of ourselves. As an aside, and something that probably merits its own article is my view about short term therapy - often thought of as “counselling” (longer term therapy is often thought of as “psychotherapy”) - in short term therapy I think people often start to see themselves in a new and more helpful way in a relatively short period of time however problems can start to appear in their relationships because the therapy finishes before it is integrated across all areas of a persons life. I regularly meet couples where misunderstandings and conflicts have only become more frequent and problematic after one or both partners have been to individual counselling.
Anyway back to my other thoughts about the Radio depiction. I also wasn’t surprised but I was disappointed that this series also seems to promote the misconception about men because three out of the four patients were men! Finally and most crucially I was saddened to think I heard the therapist as being at times tired, irritated and frustrated amongst other feelings with her patients. For me, I view therapy as a collaboration between therapist and client, an agreement to work together, it is a commitment by both of us to undertake a vibrant, energetic, stimulating exploration. It is a project where neither therapist nor patient can know what will occur, but where both agree to try because good things can come when we give something our best efforts and attention. Unfortunately with Martha I was not entirely convinced this was the case, actually I was wondering whether she might benefit from a sabbatical? And I wonder if future productions might possibly capture some of the wonders of the therapeutic endeavour that so many therapists and patients work so passionately to achieve?
“How does that make you feel?” Series 8 is currently available on the BBCRadio iPlayer.