All my blog articles

Why is therapy like a tree?

The tree: what we see, or ‘know’ We see a tree… and maybe we hear it, taste, smell or feel it. We see how it moves, changes, sounds; and maybe we feel like we know it. In therapy we can look at all that… and it’s not a bad idea, to see how we see ourselves whether in hibernation or full sway, moist or dry, green or brown. But as we know from those lovely pictures like this one, that’s half the story: there’s another chunk below those branches and leaves. The past We are occupied – and many of us very busy –  doing our life right here, right now, and whilst we like to think we have some control over our daily decisions, actions and words, the past that we experienced all those years ago a) influences us, and b) supports us. Some folks say: ‘I don’t want to dwell in the past’. Well, neither do I! What’s helpful in therapy is to acknowledge and explore the past in the safety of the therapy room: it can help us not only understand who we are but moreover avoid trying to push it away, a futile pursuit. The subconscious Yes, you’ve got one! The tantalising beauty of the unconscious is that it is never fully ‘understandable’ or ‘nailed’. It pops up in dreams, slips of the tongue (‘I mis-spoke’, oops!), mannerisms, artistic expression, and in altered states due to breathing exercises, near-death experiences and shamanic ayahuasca ceremonies. If you see me I can promise you I won’t be continually talking about the unconscious (aka subconscious): we’ll never have it cracked... read more

Personality traits, passed down the line.

My friend Sam was in the synagogue and an older man called over to him: ‘hey!’ ‘Er…me?’ Sam didn’t know this guy and looked around to see if he meant someone else to come over. ‘Yeah’, the man beckoned Sam over. ‘Are you a Liebman?’ Sam was astonished. ‘Yes. How did you know that?’ ‘It’s the way you walk, the Liebman way. Looks like you’re in a hurry.’ Sam was taken aback, and felt a bit exposed, having been seen in such a perceptive way. Afterwards he wondered what else was on view that he didn’t know was noticeable to others. Next day on his way to his weekly therapy session he was clear he wanted to tell this story to Simone, whom he’d been seeing each Tuesday at mid-day. ‘How did you feel when he told you that?’ she asked in her usual calm way. ‘To start with I hated it… seemed like he’d put his finger on something, a bit like touching a sore wound. Maybe deep down, I felt like other stuff would be on view, and I don’t know what it is. ‘Then later, I thought it was useful. It got me thinking about how he’s right, I’m always on the go, sometimes my mind racing, trying to get the next thing done, not stopping to enjoy fully the thing I’m doing right now. ‘I guess you might say I’m continually low-level anxious.’ There was a pause, as the two of them sat with this for a moment. Simone waited to see if Sam wanted to say more, and then asked: ‘How far back does... read more

Cake: eating + having it

Can you really have your cake and eat it? This ‘therapy session’ is a piece of fiction I wrote a few years ago. The material is based on facts (but not from a client), and it has been anonymised.   Therapist: What prompted you to get in touch with me? Pete: Well, I have been unsatisfied with the sex life I have had with my wife for the last 3 years, and I now find it impossible to get aroused by her.  Then six months ago, this sexy woman came on to me and I thought, ‘wow! What a stunner!’  We went for a coffee, and one thing led to another, and we started to have a physical relationship.  She is absolutely gorgeous, and adores me, which is great.  I feel so alive when I am with her, and it’s fantastic fun, too.   T:  How do you feel when you’re with your wife? P: She’s a real turn-off.  You see, she has a bit of a health problem, meaning she gets very tired.  I find her draining, and she makes me feel like I have to look after her – bloody hell, I have turned into a carer!  I look at her body and think: ugh!  It hasn’t changed at all in 16 years, but I now think she needs to do something about her weight.   This new woman of mine is so fit!!  I just want to jump on her each time we meet, and guess what: I do!!  I am so turned on!   I mean, don’t get me wrong: I love Vanessa, my wife.  She... read more

Talk about pleasure?

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... read more

Do you need anything?

Here’s a snippet from my therapy with Vanessa, a counsellor in Headingley who I saw for 9 months 20 years ago… My most memorable moment when seeing Vanessa occurred when I was feeling particularly frustrated with this whole ‘therapy’ process.  I had a gnawing feeling of dissatisfaction but didn’t have any words to put to it.  Having been brought up to be a nice well-behaved boy, I was often too polite to express any resentment about anything, but on this occasion I managed to be more expressive than usual.  I let Vanessa know a bit more directly how I was fed up with the world, and, yes, fed up with her, too. I was talking vaguely about needs.  I can’t remember how the conversation developed, but she ending up saying ‘I am trying to put you in touch with your needs’.  Well, it had never occurred to me that that was what therapy might be about, or at least, one of the important things in my therapy: getting in touch with my needs! For some people that’s no problem at all: they are quite aware what their needs are, but might have some other problem, or a difficulty in tolerating the frustration of needs.  I had been brought up to rein in my needs, hide them away or even pretend that they weren’t there: if there was one biscuit left on the plate I certainly would not take it.   So it was a big learning point for me that needs have to be known about, acknowledged, accepted and not batted away.  Only then can we make conscious choices about what to do with these... read more

Is anger a negative emotion?

• Anger is not bad or good; it’s part of being human: it just is. • I need my anger, so I know someone did something that I may need to address. • I need to know when I am powerless to act (so that I don’t obsess about the actions of the other person or people.) • Anger is not the same as violent or uncontrolled expression of rage. Sometimes people get worried about anger being present in themselves or another person, because of a fear that violence will follow: to express anger does not mean someone is going the be hit. • If there were no anger in the world, would anyone bother trying to change anything? • If I say that I am disappointed with someone, but not angry with them, am I denying that I am somewhat annoyed? Sometimes it feels like we are not supposed to be angry at all: it’s tempting sometimes to think that if only we were never angry, we’d be happy. However, we need our anger: just imagine if you were never angry – you would not be good at defending yourself. You need to know when someone has wronged you, and when you need to stand up for yourself. I don’t feel good about the division of emotions into negative and positive emotions: anger is not negative or positive: we just have it. What can be negative, however, is what we do with it. For that reason, you need to know your anger, where it comes from, and how big or small it is. I have sometimes met people who... read more

Uncovering fear

‘Leap and the net will appear’ (John Burroughs 1837 – 1921) Believe it or not, when I was a kid and was afraid, I often didn’t know it!… I went to a co-counselling workshop in 1996 run by a woman called Margot. The workshop was called ‘Fear’. I think I only went along because I had a spare afternoon, so I wasn’t really expecting much to happen for me. My main pre-occupations were my lack of confidence, my embarrassment about getting intimate with people, my tendency to be spiky or impatient with people who pissed me off, my… (Well, I won’t go through the whole list here.) The thing is, I didn’t really think I had much fear. Well, the workshop took the lid off things. To be continued… 31 December... read more