I was feeling excited….I was about about three months into my weekly psychotherapy with Marcelle, and I had only that morning taken delivery of the thing in the picture on this page, an Axon Mark 2 Neural Guitar Synthesizer. Well, I don’t know what that means to you, but for me it was Christmas, chocolate and sonic orgasms all wrapped up into one. Imagine this: I could play my guitar, in the normal 6-string type of way, and at the touch of a button, out come the sounds of trumpets, violins, bells, organs, vintage analogue synthesizers or string orchestras….wow! I was in Wonder-Sound-Land, looking forward to soundfest binges galore all in my front room.
But, what did I do in my therapy session that morning?… sat and tried to think about what I ought to be talking about, after all, I had arrived three months earlier with ‘problems’, ‘issues’ that I had to address. I was supposed to sort through all my stuff, yeah?… in a focused and purposeful way, yeah? So, I thought, I had better talk about all the ‘bad stuff’. Trouble was, I couldn’t think of any! So for awhile we were sitting there, trying to give birth to some kind of conversation that didn’t really want to happen. The whole conversation for 20 minutes was totally constipated, something that didn’t want to come out.
I was lucky that I had a therapist who didn’t listen only to the words that I spoke, she also listened to the movements and undulations within her, her own feelings about and reactions to our contact. During my training many years ago one of my tutors, a very empathic Person-Centred counsellor called Judith, said, ‘listen to the music, not just the words’, and Marcelle was fortunately doing just that.
‘Richard, I can see that you have said a few things this morning that seem very relevant to your life, and they no doubt connect with the things we’ve discussed over the past few months, but this morning I notice that our conversation is, kind of, stuttering.’
‘Er, how do you mean?’ I replied, playing for time. I felt self-conscious because, on a feeling level, I guessed that she was onto something. Maybe I subconsciously feared that she had put her finger onto the way in which I was being inauthentic.
‘Well, you were talking about, for example, your fears about money, but when we starting to talk more about that, our discussion didn’t develop, it faltered and was empty of energy, and at the same time I started to wonder if there was something totally different on your mind.’
Wow, what a relief to hear this! Here was a chance to do some breaking-free of my life-long pattern to ‘do the right thing’, be the compliant kid who always smiles when smiled at, who fits in without complaint, the teenager who never rebelled. And not only that, here was a chance to celebrate my successes, give expression to my aesthetic leanings, loosen my belt and rave about something, unfettered and alive, exuberant, free. Now, I could let my zest come out.
I reached down to my bag and pulled out the sales leaflet with a picture of the Axon, and said:
‘Oh, what’s that?’ she asked.
I told her about it. But not just about ‘it’, I told her what it meant to me… the sounds, the possibilities, my excitement, my plans. I even beamed in an unashamedly satisfied way.
So, I got to talk about and re-experience my pleasure, my inside energy about this thing. And then other stuff: my disappointments, my yearnings, what music means to me, my complicated journey in music since my early years.
It all links up. Therapy is a place to talk not only about the ‘bad stuff’. (PS. nothing’s just ‘bad stuff’, but that’s another story.) It’s somewhere to talk about celebrations, successes, joys and mild amusements, euphoria and sneezes… anything.
And, there’s another strand to this story: whilst Judith was a Person-Centred counsellor, Marcelle was a psychodynamic (ie psychoanalytic) psychotherapist. Now, these two approaches are very different, but the two therapists mentioned above were both interested in ‘picking up on the music’, listening to the flow of emotion in the room , and communicating to the patient something about what feels important. These things are constituent parts of empathy, a factor that leads many practitioners to believe that it’s ultimately not the type or model of therapy that’s therapeutic: it’s the therapist-client relationships itself that heals.
This is true story; I have changed Marcelle’s name.