What’s The Story?

counselling for depression in brightonIn counselling and psychotherapy, we have the opportunity to ‘tell our story’ to someone who is able to hear it; someone who can help us think about it in new ways and support us while we are doing so. But what about outside the consulting room? What else can we do to open up our minds to new possibilities for living our lives?
My answer to these questions is to read (or watch, or listen) to other people’s stories. In my opinion it’s an easy, guilt-free way to find out what it means to be a human being. Other people’s stories, whether real or imagined, can provide us with a window into what it is like to be someone else and at the same time shed light on our own approach to the world – or, in therapy jargon, our ‘process’. For example, we might identify with a particular character in a novel, or, after watching a film, begin to view situations relevant to our own life from a perspective that we hadn’t previously been aware of. In short, we can learn about the different ways in which people respond to their own feelings, to each other, to circumstances and to the culture and society in which they find themselves.
I’m now going to (shamelessly!) plug one of my favourite contemporary authors – if not the favourite. Elizabeth Strout is an American author who has written a number of books about ordinary people’s lives. Why she isn’t better known in the UK is a mystery to me. I have just finished reading her latest offering: The Burgess Boys. The story is a portrayal of how tragedy and the way it is dealt with – the meanings attached to it – affects the way people live their lives. I love Elizabeth Strout’s writing and I couldn’t put this book down. It contains messages about seeing situations from others’ points of view, how misinformation and assumptions can damage lives, about compassion, compromise and personal responsibility.
‘What about self-help books?’ I hear you say. ‘Can’t they help to open up our minds to new possibilities – and at considerably less cost than therapy?’ I believe that self-help books have their place and I’ve read a fair few of them in my time. However, they tend to be one-size-fits-all, simplistic and sometimes downright smug! A self-help book cannot respond to our uniqueness or tell us what impact we have had on it – such a book can start us off and give us ideas but I believe that we need other people to find out about ourselves. After all, as children we learnt how to be in the world in relationship with others and so it makes sense that it is through relationship that we will learn to make beneficial changes to the way we live our lives.
A good novel or film does not claim to help you change your life. It is simply offered as a story about people and their experiences. From such narratives, we might find resonance with our own lives and begin to think about whether there might be different ways of responding to the world that might improve our relationships and make life more fulfilling. And, of course, we can also enjoy the stories for what they are.
If you live or work within reach of Brighton and Hove and my approach to counselling and psychotherapy interests you, please contact me via email or telephone 07585 910742 for more information and to arrange an initial consultation.
Copyright: Caroline Clarke, Psychotherapist and Counsellor in Brighton and Hove

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