We work in the business of change. Change is what brings clients to our doors. The change that comes with a life crisis: the death of a loved one; the ending of a relationship; the diagnosis of a critical or terminal illness; the loss of a job – the list could go on. These changes are frequently externally imposed and unwanted, but whether wanted or not, finding a way to come to terms with change is unavoidable.
Change is a naturally occurring fact of life – of what it is to be part of the natural life cycle: the need for teenagers to take on the responsibilities that come with adulthood; the loss of youth and, for women, fertility, in middle age; the frailties and indignities that come with older age; and so on.
Then there is the deep, subterranean and often barely discernible call for change that comes from within. That still, quiet voice that speaks about our heart’s longing, that calls us to recognise all we’ve neglected in ourselves, all that lies dormant and unexplored. The vast wealth of potential inside us, that, for a million and one reasons, is often ignored.
This need for deep, inner change is usually known by clients at our first meeting with them, even if only on an unconscious level: the old behaviours, responses and ways of being that no longer serve, but around which ossified defences operate, inhibiting the change process. More often, they’re communicated via unconscious processes in the consulting room – through what gets played out in the transference; in somatic symptoms and sensations; in dreams, fantasy and reveries; through metaphor, images and symbolism – the subtle transmissions that can be missed in the moment and processed later.
However change comes – and it will indubitably come – it evokes resistance because our fundamental need for safety and security leads us to cling to what’s familiar, even when that no longer serves us – even when it might be harmful to do so. We cling on to the wreckage, too afraid to swim, when our survival requires us to do so. We hang on to jobs we hate, relationships that cause unhappiness, and addictions that damage us, physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.
As therapists, we sit in the fulcrum of the conflict that comes with change, and it’s not a comfortable place to reside. We work in the epicentre of the pull towards something new that needs to emerge and the forces that fight against it; because there’s no life without death, no stepping across the threshold into newness, without the demise of what’s gone before. This is difficult, exhausting work for both of those present.
We’re also working within a global, political, economic, social and environmental context that’s ever changing – and, at this current point in history, arguably not for the better. Climate change is now affecting us in ways we can no longer ignore. The cost-of-living crisis; the return of war in Europe; the rise of the justification for expansionism in Russia and China; the growth of populism in politics and the appeal, for a certain sector of disgruntled, marginalised and disenfranchised members of society, to get behind seemingly strong but actually narcissistically driven leaders, who seek to cause disharmony and division, usually to serve their own need for power and dominance.
Whether we like it or not, change is coming – it’s always coming – we can fight it or accept and embrace it. The fight might be worth it, if the change requires staving off for the health of the individual and collective. Ultimately, though, in relation to personal change, the latter option is the one that best promotes wellbeing – not happiness necessarily, for this will only ever be fleeting, but for us to thrive while simultaneously honouring our grief for all that’s been lost.
On a personal note, and speaking to this theme of change, I would like to say farewell to Jacqui Gray, who is leaving BACP at the end of March after 11 years of sterling work in her capacity of Managing Editor of the divisional journals. She’s been scrupulous, supportive and always kept a steady hand on the tiller. I’ve learned a lot from working with her.
John Daniel, Editor