Fear seen as an Emotional Therapist

This is another report I have written for the course I am currently on. As with the last one it’s very blog-post like, so I hope it’ll make for an interesting read!

largeFear is one of our primal emotions, alongside love, one of the first things that, as a new born, we are able to feel. Fear has a lot of negative connotations, but it is, in its most basic representation, something that allows for the triggering of the flight or fight instinct which can be intrinsic to our survival. But what happens when fear stops triggering that reaction and instead freezes us on the spot, trapping us in a pattern, situation, or cycle that we simply cannot move from? That is when fear becomes an obstacle to our daily lives, and it is also when we begin to fear the fear itself, therefore creating a loop in which we simply cannot face the original fear that has us frozen in place.

Fear is one of the most common underlying feelings that a client might demonstrate, and it more likely than not that they will be unaware that fear is the root of their problem, let alone a fear of what. Because the fear is often rooted in one or more events of childhood, it is likely that the specifics of it have all been buried away by the adult as a coping mechanism. Similarly the fear may also have been displaced.

There are many physical, mental, and emotional signs that can tell us, as counsellors that fear is an underlying problem for the client even if they do not realise it. Physical signs can range from sweaty palms to shaking, to clinging onto specific items and high levels of restlessness. Mentally and emotionally, clients who are afraid are more likely to talk themselves in circle as they are too afraid to give voice to what the actual problem is. They are also likely to report high levels of anxiety in their daily lives as well as suffer from panic attacks. Addictions are also a good sign that there may be fear masked by the client’s actions. And those are only a small selection of examples on how fear manifest itself: lack of sleep, untargeted anger, and a chaotic lifestyle with no capacity to adapt are also some of the red flags surrounding fear in a client.

Anxiety, as is mentioned above, is unfocussed fear that the client has detached from what created it in the first place and it has become spread over everything that is part of the client’s life. Phobia, on the contrary, is a focussed fear, wherein a particular object, situation, or creature, becomes the target of an intense, uncontrollable fear. It is likely that phobias are displaced and targeted fears the origin of which clients can neither face nor recognise.

As therapists what we offer client is not to diminish their face, but it is to develop love large (1)(and self-love) to balance out the fear and make it more manageable. We cannot rid people of their fear, but what we can do is help the wounds caused by the events that created the fear, heal, and become just a scar. Triggering events will always make the scar feel sensitive but, with self-love and the proper healing having happened, a person can know what it is that is causing the feelings and why it is doing so and therefore be able to tackle how they feel both on a mental and emotional level.

When handling people who are afraid it is important for the therapist to be aware that they might need to approach the person and their issues in ways that are tailored to that person as each individual will handle their fear differently. One thing that can be said in most cases is to remind the person that they are being brave, and showing courage in coming to therapy. Courage can only exist in the face of fear, and by coming to therapy people are willing to tackle the fear that is hindering their lives, therefore demonstrating courage. This alone can help some people feel emboldened and more in control when it comes to the difficult process of therapy.

Most important is not to frighten the person away, not to give them another thing to be afraid of. It is necessary to be reassuring with frightened clients, perhaps to employ a particularly soft tone of voice to help them feel at ease. Exercises such as creative expression and dreamwork could prove beneficial to such clients: the former as a way to express the fear in a safe environment and in whichever way is more suited to them and the latter potentially as a way to uncover hints towards what is causing the fear. Visualization can be used to help calm the person if the session has taken them to somewhere which has caused them distress, whereas working with the stones might be a way to find out whether the fear is linked to one individual, or a group of individuals in particular.

What is important above all, and if not done will render any attempt to help the person useless, is the building of trust. Without trust, the client will not be able to open to their fear in front of the therapist, who will most likely become feared in turn.

large (2)It is important to help the client also understand that the fear they feel is not simply their own, but that of the inner child who has been holding onto that fear potentially for years now. It is very important to comfort the inner child and to teach the client to do the same, and not to belittle whatever it is that their inner child is feeling. Ways to get the client in touch with the inner child could involve the use of photographs from childhood (or old diaries), non-dominant hand writing, or the good parent visualization. It could be helpful to ask the client what would have helped them when they were in that situation and do behave that way towards the inner child where possible.

The therapist could ask questions along the line of ‘Can you remember a time when you felt afraid/safe/anxious?’ as a way to start creating a timeline of when the fear was created. Although this might be difficult for customers who have little to no memories of their childhood. Client willing, there are ways to help them try and retrieve these memories, but it is never guaranteed and there is always the risk of the client going to very dark and uncomfortable, often frightening, places. Again the use of old photos can help jog specific memories, and if the client has any, they could use object or toys from their past to build memories outwards from what they remember regarding the object/toy. Talking to old friends and family can also help.

It is also possible that the fear will prevent the recovery of memories, or that they have simply been lost and as such the therapist will need to work more with the present life of the client instead of trying to heal the wounds of the past. It is also possible that the fear has been created in a more recent past and not in the childhood, and therefore will likely need to be tackled differently. Either way, it is important to help people realise that fear is False Evidence Affecting Reality and that the proper support and love, it can be overcome in most cases.

Advertisements

Book review: The Drama of Being a Child (The Search for the True Self) – Alice Miller

This is actually a book report I had to write for my course, so it might be less of a traditional book review and more of a summary/general impressions I had of the book. Either way it seemed enlightening enough for those who might be wondering whether to read this to post it here. I don’t usually review books that aren’t genre fiction so this feels very odd, and somewhat personal too, but I do hope it will interest those who are intrigued by this field of study and self-discovery!

 

41046HJX0YL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Miller offers through her book a fascinating tale of the effects of childhood, not solely on the child as these events take place, but more so on the adult. These events from childhood that have become the invisible strings that guide us through our lives are, more often than not, simply accepted by the adult person as a fact that had little to no consequences on their lives. It is only when as an adult we can look back to our childhood days and not only understand but truly feel what affected us as children, that we can begin to unravel the tangle of fears, habits, and issues that has followed us everywhere we went during our adult life.

Much like emotional therapeutic counselling, Miller recognises the importance of the hurt and lonely child we all carry within us. She emphasises that it is that child’s emotions that make us often react as we do to the world around our adult selves. Because that child is made of so many repressed emotions, so he seeks to either take revenge upon the world, or hide away everything even more. The dialogue with this Inner Child is, to Miller, as intrinsic a part of healing, as it is for emotional therapeutic counselling.

Miller also mentions the importance of confronting those who have caused the hurt during childhood, whether face to face or, if the former is impossible for one reason or another, through a mental dialogue wherein the adult can finally unload the Inner Child’s actual feelings onto the person who has caused them and have a discussion with them. Similarly to emotional therapeutic counselling, Miller does not believe that we can be free of the hurt of our childhood until we have truly felt the emotions that our child-self repressed.

Another element in the book that reminded me strongly of what we had done in the course was Miller’s regular mention of her patients’ dreams and their importance in their therapy. She takes dreams as the subconscious’ way of talking to us, or trying to point where or what the issues might be. She points out in one of her examples how it can be an easy way to track therapy progress as the patient’s dreams change and evolve.

I personally found this read enlightening, especially following what I had already learnt about myself during the course and it shed a fascinating light on some elements of my childhood that has just seemed that they had left me unaffected up to that point. Stories of which I have little to no recollection but have been told about seemed to come back with stark clarity as the emotions I had felt were accessed. It emphasised that it was ok for my adult self to revisit those emotions, to let them happen and face the feelings of my childhood without fear of any consequences. It has allowed me to understand my reactions to certain things that happen around me, as well as turn the emotions elicited towards their true target instead of the situation at hand.

5/5

Childhood development: nature vs nurture, or is it both?

Nature_versus_NurtureThe start of my childhood development course has taken me down the alleys of thinking about how it is exactly that children develop and what it is that affects their development. History has seen many a theory being introduced to explain how it is that we develop, learn, and grow. Not all of them still fully apply today, and some seem absolutely baffling if you’re not inclined to share the views of those who first introduced them. But on the whole, most of them have good points that seems to work especially well when mixed and matched in between the different theories.

The four I studied in-depth seemed to grow from within one another, with obvious elements of past theories being dropped as new and shiny concepts are introduced. Sometimes the progress is minimal, sometimes it is revolutionary, but each step taken forward towards a more global understanding of childhood development is an important one: full of promises of better parenting, happier children, and better developed adults. But there is a debate that has always permeated theories of development: are we the product of nature, or the product of nurture?

It’s not just psychologists that have been faced with this headache, and philosophers have, for centuries, asked themselves the same question. To clarify the terms, nature refers roughly to what we are given at birth: our DNA. Nature will decide if we have blond or brown hair, blue or grey eyes, whether our knees are not aligned or we are likely to get coldsores. Nurture, on the contrary, does not come to us with birth, but through the social context in which we are born, through the people around us, through the education we receive, and so on and so forth. So nurture isn’t going to decide what colour hair we have, but it is likely to decide what kind of human being we grow up into.

To an extent.

And this is where it gets tricky. Once we are grown adults, how can we pretend to know how and why we have turned out as we have? We can make guesses, theorize,  look back on our childhood and try to make rational, logical sense of it in a way we couldn’t at the time. But at the end of the day, even through careful study of other children, there is no sure way to draw solid conclusions and form theories that could claim to apply universally (because humans, after all, have this awful tendency to all be so very different from one another).

Take, for example, the case of Alfred (Yes, this is the best name I could up with for my made-up example). Alfred was born in a loving home, surrounded by a loving, peaceful family. He never spent ridiculous amount of hours watching violent programs on TV either. And yet, Alfred was a violent, anti-social child who could hardly be controlled by his parents. Eventually, it was discovered that Alfred had been born with a deficient part of his brain and was in fact a psychopath  Here, nurture is absolutely powerless against nature, although there is no doubt the nurturing would have affected Alfred in some ways. But nonetheless, who Alfred grew into was not ruled by nurture, but by nature. Perhaps even by both for who can say how Alfred would have turned out had he been raised away from a loving and understanding home? Nobody can, and that’s why the nurture vs nature debate is such a tricky one.

Obviously, there are times when nurture can influence nature, or at least can seem to. Children who are unruly from a young age can be taught discipline, but it is difficult to know whether their unruliness is something that they were born with (an innate trait of character) or whether it something they picked up from peers or siblings behaviour.  What, however, of children who demonstrate such behaviour without ever having witnessed it from others? Are they born with an innate desire to be unruly and cause havoc? Perhaps. And if that is the case then nurture can indeed overrule (or perhaps more so, bend and modify) nature.

genes-environment-choices-500x492

Another issue with the concept is when we start looking at people’s choices in career. Those who follow artistic careers and have had contact with an adult they are related to who also follows such a career might find they are told that they are doing so that it is because it is in their nature (clearly being a musician runs into the family, for example). But if a child of two doctors follows the same line of work as his parents, people are far more likely to blame it on nurture (it’s all he’s ever known/he’s trying to be like you). The question is, what is the difference? Maybe a child only chooses to become a musician, not because it is somehow written in his genes, but because he wants to be like his father, his mother, or his uncle. And maybe the little girl whose parents are doctors decides to follow in their footsteps not become she dreams of being like them, but because she feels a real calling towards the profession.

Either way, the idea that either nature or nurture forms us into what we become misses out one important factor: choice. Neither theories, not even them combined, take our own personal choices into account. From a very young age, babies and children are capable of making choices in their day-to-day lives and those choices are likely to have as strong an impact on their development as nurture and nature put together. But that’s for a different blog post all-together.

Psychologists are more and more agreeing that pitching nature vs nurture is a terrible idea and that if we are to truly understand how we develop, both as children and once we have reached our adult years, we need to look at both. To understand one truly would mean the need to understand the other just as completely. Indeed, how could there be development as we know it if only nurture, or only nature had a part to play?