Midlife: crisis or opportunity?
Gone are the days when an average lifespan was ‘three score and ten’. In developed countries people now expect to live into their eighties and even nineties. The classic ‘midlife crisis’ that struck men especially for a year or two when they turned forty has become a much more complex syndrome. It may start later but nowadays seems to be lasting longer and longer as both men and women increasingly try to hold onto their youth(fulness) at all costs — the only alternative they perceive being physical/mental decline followed by death.
You may have clients who come into this category. Perhaps they change jobs frequently — or else have given up employment altogether to find a more creative way of living. They might be using dating apps or on-line pornography to make up for a loss of intimacy in their main relationship. Perhaps they’re chronically angry. Or it might be that they manage to avoid feeling anything at all through some combination of drink, drugs and prescription painkillers.
In this workshop we will be looking beyond these well-known markers of midlife malaise to think about the deeper anxieties that give rise to them. Like adolescence this is a period of great emotional and psychological turmoil. Navigated wisely, it can transform our sense of who we are — and of what the future holds. What usually prevents this is fear of change. When that predominates we tend to fight the passage of time, making ourselves (or those around us) either unwell or unhappy in the process.
Midlife is a theme that has inspired many writers and artists, and over the course of the day we will be asking how their insights might be applied to our work in the consulting-room. We will also consider how different religious and spiritual traditions imagine the various stages of life and of our journey both through and beyond it.
The term ‘midlife crisis’ was in fact coined by a psychoanalyst in the 1960’s and is itself now over half-a-century old. We will use this text as a starting-point for exploring what psychotherapy can tell us about midlife that we might not otherwise know — and how we can make use of these ideas to help our clients. It may be that what starts for them as a crisis turns into an unprecedented opportunity for renewal.
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About the host
Johnathan Sunley is a psychodynamic psychotherapist who works in London in private practice and also in the prison service. Before training at WPF Therapy he was a journalist and consultant specialising in Central and Eastern Europe. He is particularly interested in the cultural and philosophical background to the practice of psychotherapy.