Halloween – Counsellors, Witches and Warlocks
So what have counselling and therapy got to do with Halloween? At first sight not very much. I am certainly not suggesting that therapists ever appear as malevolent witches or warlocks or that clients venture into the therapy room seeking supernatural support. On reflection however, there just may be some aspects of counselling work which could resonate with the spirit of Halloween
Although the more recent enthusiastic celebration of Halloween appears to have spread from the US, the origins of this sometimes strange commemoration lay back in the mists of a more pagan time. In Europe for example the turnip was traditionally carved long before the arrival of the ubiquitous pumpkin. There are many other older customs besides the well known trick or treating. These include the laying dishes of milk or pastries next to the grave, or the decoration of a house with cornhusks all of which have origins in another time. The spiritual roots of Halloween night go back well beyond All Hallows Eve and the mass day of All Saints.
That history describes a Halloween celebration pre-dating the emergence of contemporary therapy, so just where is that link with counselling? Perhaps on Halloween night it is there right in the forefront of our overactive imaginations.
We are aware that All Saints is a time in the church calendar for remembering departed believers. We also recognise if only from books and films, the various gory Halloween myths in which the malevolent spirits come out to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting. In some macabre stories Halloween is represented as providing a final chance for spirits of the dead to impact on the living before moving away to another world.
There is something about dealing with that impact from what is past and of being concerned with being haunted by the ghosts from long ago which may start to resonate with some clients in the counselling room.
A reference to apparitions may initially seem as an exaggeration. Nevertheless for some clients, that experience of something unpleasant laying hidden in the subconscious for many years, suddenly leaping out in a frightening way, may be rather familiar. Just like the ghosts of the classic horror movies, disturbing memories can occasionally appear without shape or warning with a disruptive impact on normal emotional life
Memories can be reawakened by ordinary events. A catalyst may be the everyday progress through life of a child which unexpectedly reminds the parent about what was happening to them at a similar time in their life. If that recollection from long ago is benign it can provoke a pleasant memory.
If however, this was a traumatic time perhaps because of abuse or loss, the memory may be extremely disturbing and create ripples in the emotional fabric of today. It is on those difficult occasions when counselling work may offer a helpful way forward to contain and normalise.
Those Halloween masks can look quite scary when seen under the twilight glow from a street lamp in the dusk of a cold autumn evening. In the morning light however, the frightening image melts away to reveal a rather garish plasticity. The sheer absurdity of the image pushes away any lasting fear factor. That is also what can happen when some of those emotional apparitions from long ago are brought safely into daylight. The counselling room with the support of an experienced therapist can become a safe place in which the client can explore those frightening thoughts or events from a previous time
One approach to this work can be for therapists to encourage clients to recognise the distinction between their personal ghosts and family ancestors. Ghosts can be likened to those apparitions who will try to scare us at Halloween. On a dark night when we are walking thorough ill lit streets past old buildings with trees creaking in a wild wind, the idea of the malevolent ghost appearing ahead of us through thickening fog is enough to quicken the pace of even the most level headed cynic.
Thoughts about ancestors can however have a very different quality. Popular television programmes show well known personalities tracing ancestors in family trees. We can now also use newly uploaded databases to research the census and military records to try to identify and catch a sight of our ancestors. Rather than run from these figures from our past as we may with ghosts, we want to walk towards our ancestors, to find out more about them and to understand their world.
Perhaps this is what some clients may wish to do within the therapy room. We will all have memories to illustrate the narrative which is our story. If certain chapters from that personal history book are deliberately hidden and suppressed, the characters from that section of our story may like ghosts, retain the power to frighten us and disturb our current emotional life. Counselling can provide a safe opportunity to deal with those spectres and to draw the fear factor from them.
The customs of Halloween may seem detached from the work of counsellors in the therapy room. Nevertheless there may be occasions when they have to support clients who are frightened by spectres. Their role is to help clients reach a place where their demons are exorcised, the frightening masks removed and a form of normality restored.
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