"When we have words to describe our emotional state, things immediately feel more manageable"by Anna Blundy / February 15, 2017 / Leave a comment
My teenaged son phoned me up on his way home from school last week. I was in rural Iceland and walking back to my little hut in a blizzard, having just been for a swim in a hot, eggy outdoor pool and watched a group of women in bikinis doing aqua aerobics in steam and snow. Their instructor, shouting through the snowstorm from the side, was in full ski gear. I felt a very long way away from the boy calling.
He had a bad cold and told me he felt dizzy and his legs didn’t work properly. He sounded OK so I wasn’t worried, but I said he should get home, have toast and watch telly from under the duvet. “You feel a bit wobbly,” I said. “People quite often say they feel a bit wobbly when they’re ill or upset.” He was pleased with this and agreed that “wobbly” was exactly how he felt. Then we chatted about school and lava fields until he got home.
This is already turning into one of those annoying shrinky essays I hate. Therapist relates the details (always fictionalised anyway) of a very disturbed patient and then tells us the brilliant interpretation he/she offered after which the patient was completely cured. Yuh.
Anyway, it occurred to me that when we are trying to comfort or calm someone we offer interpretations in quite a psychotherapeutic way without knowing it. Or, rather, that psychotherapeutic interpretations are an extension of the way we (in the best circumstances) speak to each other already.
When we have words to describe our emotional state, things immediately feel more manageable. Obviously this is easier said than done. I have a patient who has no idea whether or not she likes or dislikes types of food, people, physical sensations, whether or not she is really in pain—she has no vocabulary for this stuff. Defining what it is we hate and fear in President Trump and writing it on a sign feels therapeutic, especially when we find we are not alone. (Whether or not it has any effect on the man and his activities…).
On my first visit to a psychotherapist in 1989, I told her about the chronic hypochondria that kept me awake at night and the feeling of impending doom that overwhelmed me at dusk (early afternoon in an English…