Updated: Dec 4, 2021
”What does that even mean?” Says the young woman sitting in front of me, disappointed that yet another ghosting has taken place. I’m at a loss. I don’t know what to say. I’m her therapist and yet here we both are at a dead end. Over the course of her therapy this woman has confronted huge losses, life changes beyond her control, a pandemic and the resulting symptoms that a life history such as hers would bring. Feeling more like the person she is meant to be, brave, sassy, a little bit controversial and with her own personal style, she went for it. “I’m going on a date. Okay I met him online but what the hell. That’s what people do now.”
The resounding agreement about dating these days went round the room in a group therapy session full of resigned apathy, as if the app would have to do. It’s like alcohol; What else is there? I’ve looked at the apps and even tried a few, yet I‘m still at a loss. It all seems terribly loaded with expectations and the falseness that online profiles are. A friend of mine said it’s like being in a bar and someone catches your eye. Eventually you pass each other and exchange a few words. What then? On dating sites, eye catching over the internet is all there is. It quickly dies after a few messages, unless you meet pretty soon. You go on a first date but might as well line up in an identity parade and wait to either be judged or let off for good behaviour and some redeeming feature deemed permissible by your interlocutor.
Cynicism aside, there are of course thousands who have met online, and are fortunate enough to still be together and happily so. There’s a gap in the market for people of a certain age who want to find love, have been there before and are all too aware of what they don’t want. I’ve seen the profiles, they want someone who replies, turns up, looks like their picture, is kind, fun and easygoing. These people are asking for basic human decency. What kind of relationships have they been in to think these are qualities to look for? They’re human givens.
There is no room anymore for the mystery of meeting someone without the help of an app, alcohol or otherwise external stimulant or simulation. One of the loviest encounters I had was doing something I love. I was in my element just doing my thing and realised the man I’d been idly chatting with for about a year on a more or less weekly basis, was in fact, growing on me in rather a beautiful way. This thing was unfolding as the seasons changed and we talked through a spring and into the summer. As winter came there was coffee and we talked for hours.
We went through the inevitable dance that wondering if someone wants you is. We had to get to that first coffee despite our terrible attempts at chit chat and utter lack of finesse but it was well worth being rejected once because he had work and misunderstood because I was scared. He was brave enough to put up with feeling like shit in the name of love and so was I. We did get past all that and spent a long time together albeit with difficult circumstances but we did it and I’m glad. He is too. I know because when it ended, which was sad but necessary, we managed to make sense of it all and he said he would never forget me, that I showed him how to feel and there would never be another like me. I told him how much I appreciated him for never judging me or losing his patience. I really loved him. We had our ending and said our goodbyes.
If I was going to coach anybody through the dating scene I’d say throw the bloody phone away. Look around you, especially when you’re doing what you love, and see who’s there. You never know, it could blossom into something wonderful but you have to be ready to “get the shit kicked out of you for love,” as the little boy says to his dad in Love Actually. I believe it. It really happened and I’d do it again! When I think back there isn’t a single thing I’d change about it. It’s about traversing unknown territory; That period of uncertainty while you get to know each other and being able to tolerate it even though it‘s uncomfortable. I heard the well known British philosopher and founder of The School of Life, Alain de Botton, say, “Compatibility is an achievement of love, not a pre-requisite.“ This is why I don't, for the most part, think dating sites really work. Not for finding true love anyway.
Robert Green, author of The Laws of Human Nature, talks about the art of seduction. He says it has to unfold slowly. Let it be a mystery and say less than you need to but really listen. Take the person in and let them have an impact on you. In my years as a relational psychotherapist, I know what it takes to build trust with clients who have been hurt. I think it’s even more imperative, that out there, in the social scene without the boundaries of therapy, that trust has to be earned over time. To the young woman who went on that date only to be ghosted, I’d say well done and keep going. Spend as much time as you can with the next person offline and away from alcohol as you can. Practice being you with that person without the help of an app or a substance. Let them drop away as you become more and more you than you’ve ever been.
A footnote on ghosting. What the hell is that? Didn’t we all just wander away when something got boring before we had the god forsaken place that is the internet to distract ourselves? I think these apps do no more than feed our inner addict and spike our attachment wounds. Anxiety apps. That’s what they are. I’m old enough to remember first having a computer at home and playing with art software. I felt so strongly that it wasn’t satisfying me. It wasn’t real and yet I couldn’t peel myself away. I had this growing sense of guilt as I became fixated on the box of pixels in my living room. It became the thief of time, a distraction from life. I’m old school. Give me paper and pens any day. I think we’ve forgotten how to truly encounter each other and that because of tech dependency, we’re running on dodgy software and the hardware is failing.
Quirks and Foibles is the brainchild of two psychotherapists who want to help people traverse the territories of modern dating. Whatever your age, however you identify, we would love to help you fall in love. Our sessions are online and in person, one to one and in groups. No class-room or course to sign up to just your desire to commit to a personal journey of self-discovery. Make contact here to enquire.
Updated: Dec 4, 2021
How a Tree Became My Therapy Room
Aristotle is said to have walked around with his followers while they discussed philosophy. This could be where the expression 'walking the talk' comes from. In my early training days the tutor wanted us to walk the talk, meaning that we were expected live and breathe our ethical code and philosophy. Over the last year I've adapted my practice to a socially distanced approach. Apart from the usual offering of online sessions, I looked into outdoor therapy.
Known as eco-therapy, this already established approach comes with much evidence to support that it works. One such finding was that of the psychologist Francine Shapiro in the 1980's. Whilst out for a walk one day, she noticed that moving her eyes from side to side, as she looked at the trees, seemed to reduce her own distress. This is what neurologists call bilateral stimulation, where the right and left hemispheres of the brain are activated. Thus, facilitating the connections of new neural pathways between the right, emotional brain and the left, logical brain, helping the patient process deeply held emotions.
Shapiro's walk that day led to the pioneering of what is now known as eye movement desensitisation reprocessing therapy, EMDR. Bilateral stimulation was recreated in the therapy room using basic eye movements from side to side along with tapping the right and left knee of the patient. At the same time, the patient recalled memories and the therapist helped by using gentle inquiry as to what their experience was. By asking questions related to the five senses, the patient could begin to make sense of, and process post traumatic thoughts and feelings caught in the right brain. Left brain is needed to help make sense of things and other parts of the brain help orientate and conceptualise past traumas. This is delicate work and needs careful preparation with a qualified EMDR therapist.
I have been the recipient of EMDR therapy and can say it has worked. I vividly remember the therapist asking me to create a safe place installation in my mind using bilateral stimulation and five senses inquiry techniques. I now have my safe place. A serene room where a bed is made with clean white linen and a long white muslin curtain gently billows at a door leading out to a garden. The smell of a freshly mown lawn and the sound of birds singing are present. A glass of mineral water is on the side table and the light is diffuse as the curtain lets in late summer sun. When I go there in my mind, I am calm.
During the late summer months of 2020 I embarked on an outdoor therapy practice. Not everyone wants to meet online so I offered sessions outside. During the first few weeks sessions took place on a green, under a copper beech tree. This huge tree, thick with dark red foliage, provided soothing shade. In the rain, the majestic copper beech sheltered us, kept us dry. This place became my therapy room until the weather turned. My usual therapy room was, for the foreseeable future, closed because of the pandemic. I had to think again.
Eventually, I offered walks in place of sitting under a tree. It was too cold to sit still so a narrow lane with established trees either side became my new consulting room. A pleached avenue, if you will. Now, in my quest for knowledge, I had tried EMDR to see if it worked and like many, I have experienced some trauma, so I had good reason to try it. As I continued to see clients for walking sessions, I began to observe them making the kind of progress that EMDR can facilitate. The combination of my gentle inquiry, the sound of our footsteps crunching over wet gravel, the clear path ahead and the elements all worked well together.
The ease of our descent to the bottom of the lane seemed to match the way people would talk, laying out before them what they grappled with. Walking back up the hill, we laboured issues set out on the way down. As we reached the top of the lane, ideas began to formulate, realisations crystallise, new decisions became possible and a sense of calm enveloped. This walking therapy delivered some of the elements of EMDR in its natural state, in nature.
The Copper Beech
Simply moving the eyes from side to side, turning the head and looking around can release tension, sending messages of calm to the amygdala, in turn reducing cortisol levels and adrenal responses. The screen user whose fixed gaze and stiff neck engender the kind of tension akin to a deer caught in headlights, can benefit enormously from taking short breaks to do eye exercises or just look out of the window. If nothing else, looking into the distance relaxes the eye muscles. I know this from another life when I worked as an optician's assistant.
This outdoor working experience has stretched me. My interventions have changed, I cannot do therapy in the same way. My clients have seen me in a way they would never have seen me pre-covid, in my walking boots, woolly hat, huge coat and not very tall! This little lady marching up and down a muddy lane, who is now two stone lighter and has legs the summer will look forward to seeing. The pandemic has knocked the therapy frame sideways. Psychotherapy and psychotherapists can never be the same again. I like the change. That old notion of a psychotherapist has gone. I feel liberated.
I continue to offer therapy sessions online and outdoors until it is safe to open up my consulting room again. It is my intention to keep all three modalities. Find out more and see the pictures at www.maidstonetherapy.co.uk
Updated: Dec 4, 2021
The title for this came to me in a flash but I didn’t know why. I was about to share a day in my own life, which might reasonably be considered entertaining by some but the lyrics to a song I haven’t heard in decades came to me. It went like this... “Woke up. Fell out of bed. Dragged a comb across my head. Found my way downstairs and drank a cup, And looking up, I noticed I was late...”
This was the start to my day. A day in the life of a psychotherapist. Then I realised, those lyrics belong to the title of my story, A Day in The Life. This is the final track of The Beatles 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. How synchronous. Like my story today.
Today was my first day back at work after a three week break over a quiet, peaceful Christmas period. The first appointment of the day was 8am. The one and only early bird session of the week that I can sensibly offer. I woke up from a dream, in which I was about to discover a truth, to the alarm on my phone. I stumbled but didn’t fall, out of bed, dragged my hands through my rather grown out short hair, made my way downstairs and drank a cup - of tea. Strong. Then I took a quick, as is usually the case, look on social media and was stunned by the news in Australia. I thought to myself, “I read the news today, oh boy.” A line from the Beatles song that is now the parallel for my story today. This particular line refers to an article John Lennon was reading in The Daily Mail, at the time he wrote the lyrics to A Day in The Life, about the Guinness heir, Tara Browne, who killed himself in a car crash in 1966. The young socialite had been friends with John Lennon and Paul McCartney. He reportedly, missed a red light and crashed his Lotus Elan into a lorry, killing him instantly. He was about to inherit his fortune from the Guinness family. ”A lucky man who made the grade” but "Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords." How ironic, these lyrics and idea of this socialite being mistaken for a dignitary. Both are privileged yet hold no power. Time for work. I realised that like the man in the Beatles song, I had been rudely awoken by the alarm and was running late. Bad hair mornings that begin on the back foot have yet to become a thing of the past. By 11am I was on a coffee break and getting ready for afternoon clinic. In the spaces between clients, I reflect on things while I attend what needs doing around the house. One of the joys of working from home. The lyrics to the song played in my head while I fed the two lop eared rabbits who live with me. “I read the news today, oh boy Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire And though the holes were rather small They had to count them all Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall" This verse refers to another news article John Lennon had seen while writing this song, about the number of holes in our roads. He takes us from the sublime to the ridiculous. Lennon and McCartney’s collaboration seems to bring two sides of a world view together. One cheery yet ordinary and the other mournful and melancholy but then there's a rebellious streak all the way through. I bet the man who fell out of bed would have loved to go to The Albert Hall, fight for his country, drive a Lotus or turn someone on. I check back on the story. Five million animals dead in Australia. Burned in the bush. I thought to myself, “I just had to look.” Here, John Lennon refers to a war film he was in where "A crowd of people turned away" and in the song he doesn’t, he looks. Like the pictures of the bush fire tragedies being posted on Facebook, I just had to look, and then I thought, how interesting that an English song writer was inspired by an article about the holes in our roads and how many it would take to fill The Albert Hall. “They had to count them all,” He sang. The news today was about the fires in the Australian bush, how many it would take to cover an area the size of Europe and the five million dead creatures that had been counted. A crowd of people turned away, had to run away, from their homes.
Lennon wrote his lyrics in a way that made it possible for the auspicious, the ordinary, the bizarre and the tragic to exist in some kind of coherent narrative that McCartney arranged around an orchestral piece that had musicians behaving in unexpected ways. The orchestra was conducted by Paul McCartney and builds to a crescendo, that was supposed be like a musical orgasm, while the musicians wore false noses and all the way through there’s the line “I’d love to turn you on.” I like that line because it was controversial at the time and it's why the BBC banned the song. This is mild by today’s standards. I prefer not to read my news feed these days because it is so unbelievable and manufactured in a way that irritates me. I don't like the way these things are designed to reel you in. I don’t know what is false or real anymore. I take another quick look.
The video footage of the animals killed in the fires was followed by a political rant about how the Australian government made no provision for the predicted bush fires and a young woman refused to shake the hand of their prime minister. In the last verse of the song, Lennon refers to the English Army having just won the war. This is a reference to a film in which a Lennon played the part of Musketeer Gripweed, a bumbling English soldier in a parody of a war film that looks like a piss take of the establishment. “I just had to laugh.” I could hear Lennon's wistful voice singing this line and I thought to myself, that young woman made a statement much like Lennon might have done. His tone in the song is not insolent, rather it is one of sadness or pity even and "Having read the book," he knew what was going on. I watched the video of the song. Those young men look so serious. I felt as if I wanted to talk to them and see what they could see. The Beatles were a huge part of the antiestablishment counterculture of the time. Interestingly, that was also the age of Aquarius, which is here again now. It will be a time of great change but it is us who need to change. This is about our inner world not outer world.
The first verse feels like the end of the song but the sound of an alarm clock, not meant to be in the original recording and was left in because it seemed fitting, takes us to the next part, sung by Paul McCartney. It brings us back from the holes that could fill The Albert Hall into the ordinary, where a man wakes up and falls out of bed. I stumbled out of bed today as my alarm clock woke me. It interrupted my dream about love and redemption. I wanted very much to go back to my dream, where everything was about to turn out right and have my day end just there. From the sublime to the tragic. Now I know how many holes it takes to fill The Albert Hall but I feel wretched about Australia.
A Day in The Life was recorded in January 1967