Having therapy is climbing a tree?
No, therapy is wanting to climb a tree!
I am looking through some of the photos from Royal Academy of Arts (RA) for this month, especially the ones marketed on social media. One such image captured my attention; I did not look quite so closely, I did not read all the subtitles, the image was speaking to me – it seemed like tree trunks neatly arranged one next to each other, reaching for the sky in a perfect circular position and with light climbing down from a ground perspective rather than from a top view.
Images are powerful to my attentiveness and perception and so, I started to rethink a way out from that image: how would I climb out and towards the light? No idea, really, at that very moment. I was much more preoccupied by contemplating the image: its beauty, perfections, monochromatic sense and feelings entrapped in that circular movement with tree trunks reaching for the sky and the eye viewer trapped into that sense of space constructed in such a way.
I immediately wondered: was that the intention of the artist? To place herself/himself/themselves in such a position and point of view – something to aspire and inspire without immediately seeking a way out? It would make sense, it is art – speaks to us all in such different ways. I was uncertain and that is how that image was making me feel. I felt that it would feel safer, if perhaps there was a sense of urgency to climb out and towards the light. What other options were there?
And then the most peculiar thing happened. The image changed its conceptual feeling of entrapment into a memory of climbing a tree as a young child – that made me feel curious and excited. I wanted to climb out. I was ready to climb out. I wanted to reach out and I looked forward to finding such ways out. The trees’ trunks were my friends, my stairs out into the light and then my vision and my mind would climb out of that ground circle and into the light. I was not thinking about the artist anymore, I was now finding a way out, but also remembering that I am curious and not afraid, I am engaged and not pressured, I am present and focused and not feeling lost or doubtful of a sense of what next: I felt that I had a purpose.
All the above are about ways of engaging in therapy - all such ways presented in metaphorical ways and not attempting to dismiss or remodel therapy as not being a treatment for mental health issues. On the contrary – it opens something that so many of us, practitioners, think about and face on a day-to-day basis in our practice. Yes, therapeutic interventions are protocols designed for and targeting mental health and that are indisputable facts. But that is not all that there is.
Therapy and its interventions (in whatever modality or school of thought) are also human ways to self-discover, to self-learn about self and the world at large, a way of relating or finding an anchor in your life, and also particularly when one herself/himself/themselves offer such ways to others. Therapeutic interventions can also be treated as courses of training in self-development and understanding, and as such I have listed the below for ways of thinking about therapy.
It may feel like this article goes against the tide of thinking about therapy as a course of action for distress and alleviating suffering - again, indisputable facts; yes, absolutely therapy is a space where the unbearable moments of day-to-day, minute to minute of a life overwhelmed by one or two or more mental health issues or of an emotional life filled with grief and or bereavement can take place – yes, therapy responds and attends to that, too. Therapeutic interventions are designed, protocols are named and formulated around clinical diagnosis of painful mental health conditions.
As a practitioner, I acknowledge that clinical depression and despondent feelings are a dark state of mind, I acknowledge that anxiety disorders exist in different degrees, I acknowledge and attest that I have met and treated dissociative and personality disorders of all types, degrees and severity; there is no condition recognised in either DSM-V or ICD-11 that I have not treated as a practitioner of mental health or recognised as being assigned in such category/classification. Yes, I acknowledge that phobias are real, PTSD is treatable, and abnormality takes different meanings when placed within a clinical psychology terrain. Yes, I am aware of panic disorder and its many forms, but then again, I also know that therapeutic interventions or therapeutic encounters are also about:
1. Helping and supporting the patient to become curious – really and mostly at its core – that is exactly what therapy it’s all about. I do hope that my statement is not provoking any disconcerting feelings on part of readers.
2. Helping and supporting the patient to want to know.
3. Helping and supporting the patient to find her/his/their way out.
4. Helping and supporting the patient to climb a tree or remembering the first time they did so.
5. Helping and supporting the patient to see/envisage their future.
6. Helping and supporting the patient to write up or think on their goals/purpose.
7. Helping and supporting the patient through difficult psychological transitions/changes/life events.
Therapy need not be painful – today offers different challenges to what was such a long time ago seen as a “mental disturbance”. That is the stereotype and that needs to be eliminated. Therapy is real, as real as its needs and outreach.
Therapy can be a method of training, training your sense of self, nourishing and healing, but also self-growth.
Therapy can be many things, but more importantly it can be what you wish it for. Remember that!
Light Lines: The Architectural Photographs of Hélène Binet | Exhibition | Royal Academy of Arts
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