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  • Not quite Aphrodite...

    Yesterday, I was a dynamic, vibrant young thing, keen to pursue my third career and so ALIVE. Today, I decided to have a jacuzzi bath in a hotel I’d booked to celebrate my husband’s 65th birthday weekend.  As I sat down in the tub (I’ve been accustomed to showering for the last 20 years),    I realised with absolute certainty that I would not be able to get out of the bath.  I’m now 68, you see, with an osteoarthritic left knee, and my right knee is not much better. Being unable to exit a bathtub will sound absurd if you’re not my age and have never suffered the pain of an afflicted knee.  It seemed ludicrous to me. And unbelievable.  And sure enough, as I tried to leave the bath, I could not stand. I panicked and perspired.  I pushed and propelled.  No way was it going to work!  Two grab rails on the side of the bath gleamed with promise.  Nope.  My upper body strength wouldn’t support me.  My fear of dislocating my knee was so great I was shaking with dread. I had visions of two strong men being summoned to lift me, in my naked glory,  from the bath, and the visions were not erotic, let me assure you. I decided there and then that if I could not exit the bath under my own steam, I’d check into Dignitas immediately.  And at that moment, I did not feel I was being dramatic.  The indignity!  The shame!  How had I been reduced to this? With a supreme effort, I grasped the grab rail on the wall, pushed myself onto my hind legs, and—thank the Lord! I was upright!  This must be how I felt as a toddler!  Hurrah! I reluctantly shared what happened with my lovely husband, who empathised (my preference was to stay silent and let him believe I was invulnerable). Still, I could tell he didn’t really understand how indescribably scary the episode had been. Getting old is not a cakewalk, folks.  It’s hard. More challenging than you can imagine when you have your health and strength.   It’s a shock to the system.  Only yesterday, I thought I was strong and invincible. When I say yesterday, perhaps it was four years ago.  I know it was because it was the year before COVID-19 hit the headlines when I was a youthful 64. But time flies, and even though, at that time, when I was smugly walking the earth thinking I’d live with all of my faculties until the day I suddenly and somewhat wonderfully dropped dead, I now realise that perhaps there’s a slow decline in store for me, as for so many.  Ageing.  The great leveller.

  • Brainwashing Clients

    In the wake of the publicity around Prince Harry’s book ‘Spare’, and the allegation that Prince William accused his brother of being ‘brainwashed by therapy’, I’m tempted to say ‘if only!’. On the other hand, I have some sympathy with Prince William’s alleged viewpoint. Let’s unpack this subject. Firstly, why do I say ‘if only’? I’m being facetious by saying if it were so easy brainwash our clients perhaps we’d save them a lot of time and money. It isn’t easy sitting for weeks, months or years at a time whilst a client purports to desire a change in behaviour whilst doing the opposite. But having attended therapy for years, I know my own changes were not easy. And I’m so grateful that my therapist never exhibited frustration at my resistance. Just as you wouldn’t push a little child into the deep end of a swimming pool without arm bands and lots of encouragement, nor would any therapist worth their salt try to crash through a client’s defences - developed for good reasons, usually in childhood - and attempt to force a change before they were ready. When change happens, it often happens incrementally. This is due to the nature of the brain and the ego (who we believe ourselves to be) and the ego’s astonishing will to survive intact. Making change is difficult. Period. Good psychotherapists put aside their own agenda and take the view that they don’t know what’s best for the client. The client knows what’s best for themselves. At some level they know. And although it might sometimes appear that wrong choices are being made, therapists must hold a position of humility and curiosity. We may wonder with the client what might happen downstream if they were to make this or that decision, and so on. But we need to remember that the client has a soul and that soul has its journey and what may look like a mistake to us might be the perfect healing journey that client needs to undertake in order to develop a particular quality or set of qualities to help them become more whole. To individuate. Gestalt therapy refers to the process of individuation (or becoming whole) as ‘selfing’. Selfing is a dynamic process. So, when we respond in the same old way to challenging situations (choosing to avoid confrontation, for example, or choosing full-scale confrontation as opposed to calm dialogue), we are in a very real sense avoiding our wholeness. When we take a leap of faith and choose a different way of responding to challenges, we are ‘selfing’ - taking a step towards becoming whole. So, back to Prince William’s alleged viewpoint - can therapists brainwash clients? Can they influence their clients? Of course! People can be influenced by many things - nature, nurture, our experiences, our friendship groups, what we choose to read and so on. So when we are in crisis and reach out and find a therapist in whom we place our trust - yes, of course there is the potential for undue influence. Psychotherapy training is about not influencing our clients. It’s about providing the right environment, holding space and allowing clients to find their own, best way forward. Ideally, we therapists are like Sherpa guides - we know the terrain, we have plenty of experience of the territory in all kinds of weather, we can to some extent suggest the best paths to take. But we don’t direct or decide. The route, the speed, the stops en-route, changes of direction - all these are the client’s decisions. We assist the explorer as best we can. In the therapy process, we do this by asking open questions (questions not requiring a yes/no answer) and allowing the client to explore their inner and outer worlds without interference from outside influences. However, some people are very receptive, searching for somebody authoritative to make decisions on their behalf. This can be alluring for some therapists and there’s a need to avoid being unconsciously recruited by clients wishing for this.

  • Goodbye 2022

    As the year draws to a close, I offer you my first blog. What’s on my mind today? Love - and dogs. On Boxing Day my neighbour, his little Staffordshire terrier in its harness, ready for a walk, waved goodbye to a couple of Christmas guests in their car. As he strode off the dog turned around and stared, aghast, at the visitors’ car about to leave. His daddy gently tugged on the lead to encourage him to keep walking and the dog pushed his paws into the road in a Disney stop. “No!” (I voice-overed) “I thought we were all going together! I don’t want to go with just you daddy!”. No stiff upper lip. No promises of not leaving it so long in future. No “Phew, thank God that’s over for another year…”. Just genuine doggy remorse that his expectations were not met. Thirty seconds later, he was feeling better as he sniffed the local lamppost for new and interesting smells. The resilience! Today I’ve been watching dogs in the park. Not one without its tail wagging. Each and every one seemingly thrilled to meet new friends, old friends, two-legged and four-legged, it seems to matter not. Everything is a source of amazement, but not for long. Then they’re onto the next amazing thing with barely a backward glance. How much easier life would be if we could be more dog. Relishing the moment, throwing ourselves into relationships with complete abandon. Grieving endings briefly and then moving on to the next lamppost. I know we can’t. I know the human brain is more complex and it needs to reconfigure itself after a loss. I get it. But as I prepare to say goodbye to 2022, I’ll be looking for my own metaphorical new lampposts. Grateful to have had 2022 when so many didn’t make it through. Intent upon relishing 2023 with every ounce of my being. Wishing everyone who reads this a Happy New Year and leaving you with the words of Meher Baba (February 25, 1894–January 31, 1969) Love is essentially self-communicative: Those who do not have it catch it from those who have it. True love is unconquerable and irresistible; and it goes on gathering power and spreading itself, until eventually it transforms everyone whom it touches. Lynn

  • The Coots' Nest

    I wrote this in the Spring of 2012 and I can still feel the impact of the experience now. I thought I’d share it as I continue researching death, dying and grieving for my Matter of Life and Death workshops. The nest was eye-catching. Balanced on the rudder of a moored canal boat, twigs were woven together with rubbish - strips of blue, green and red plastic. A waterbird recycling project. Mummy and Daddy Coot - taking turns to sit on their five eggs - quickly became a canal-side sensation, with the birds growing accustomed to amateur photographers and commentators discussing the nest, its construction and the commitment of mother and father Coot to their eggs. Onlookers eagerly awaited the sight of the baby coots. In London, where etiquette discourages eye contact, the coots drew us together for a while. We gathered on the towpath to photograph the birds, their colourful nest and their eggs, to allow ourselves to be captured for a while by nature in the midst of a busy city. The prosaic became poetic, as we waited excitedly for an anticipated new life - beauty emerging from a pile of rubbish. How those little Coots and their five little chicks brightened the last few weeks of a dull, rain-sodden Spring. But today the nest is gone. I cover my mouth in horror. My breath becomes shallow and rapid. The adult coots are stamping on freshly-gathered twigs with their oversized webbed feet, determinedly re-building their vandalised nest. Of their five little babies, there is no sign, and as I frantically cast around hoping for a sighting, I hear someone say “Shame they nested through weeks of rain and then their chicks get eaten.” As if punched in the stomach, I exhale sharply, then feel a horrible soreness where my heart is. I wipe my tear-filled eyes with my hand and flee the scene as if distance will help. And as I trudge heavily back to work I feel the familiar sensation of shock as I wonder how I didn’t see this coming. How I never see it coming. "I learned that every mortal will taste death. But only some will taste life" (Rumi)

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