Like many people, I used lockdown as an opportunity to learn something. In my case, two things. Namely jazz music theory and philosophy/psychology from a yoga perspective. Although the former had its own challenges, and meant my attempting to play the piano again, not having had lessons for over 40 years, it was the latter that was more relevant to my work as a counsellor.
My teacher of choice has been Sadhguru, and his book Inner Engineering. (Which I downloaded as an audiobook). He also has a big presence on YouTube. Among the many aspects of his teaching is an observation that humans, alone in the animal world, have extraordinarily large capabilities both for memory and for imagination. These have helped us dominate the world but they are also the causes for anxiety and suffering. We even suffer from things that have yet to happen. And we are all familiar with how memories of past events follow us round in the form of hurt, guilt and shame.
How do we, as humans, deal with these difficult emotions? For the most part we try and suppress them through keeping ourselves busy and by turning aggression and blame onto other people. After all, we can’t really un-know our past traumas, even those where we have no clear memory. Often we are unaware of how these difficult experiences have affected us. They might leave us socially anxious. Or they might cause us to turn to alcohol or drugs to help us forget.
Yogic teaching encourages people to not identify with thought. That doesn’t mean to stop thinking, but rather to observe as one might observe busy traffic from a hill top. Meditation and other practices help here.
With counselling with take a different approach. It’s a relational therapy (as opposed to meditation which we can do alone) and the effects of past traumas reveal themselves in the relationship between counsellor and client. It’s more than just talking about problems (although short term therapy can be much like that). It’s more about the the relationship itself being a factor in the healing.
Just as lockdown presented issues from some people, so does the easing of lockdown. The socially anxious among us may experience returning to pre-lockdown society as a threat. So much so that this might result in their projecting that fear onto the virus, and choosing to stay at home with the threat of infection as the reason. Again we see how our memories and imaginations play out. Even the thought of going to a counsellor will fill some people with dread. A counsellor, however, will be aware of these fears and will work at a pace that respects their client’s resistance, while gently encouraging them to engage at a level they can tolerate. Essentially, counsellor and client experience the emotions together as and when these are revealed.
We cannot erase memories or the emotions attached to them. But we can begin the process of tolerating them, so they don’t prevent us from engaging in life and taking the opportunities that bring us joy. Indeed one of the joys of being a counsellor is to be with people when they have been on journeys like this.