Thursday, November 30, 2006

On Weddings...

I have never been a wedding kind of person. I grew up with the firm belief that marriage was a way for blokes to get a very cheap housekeeper and nanny (for them, not the children) and was determined from a young age that fate would hold more for me than that. Clearly I was not a romantic child: no dream of a knight in shining armour for me. (It came as something of a disappointment to discover that ‘living in sin’ - as The Mother calls it - is not the radical anti-marriage stance I youthfully envisaged but entails broadly the same domestic arrangements for most people.) And then I met the man who persuaded me to actually marry him, and I have to confess that our wedding day was a hoot. Since then I have been hooked. I am the perfect wedding guest: I cry at the ceremony, I can bore the pants off strangers at my table, I laugh like a drain at the Best Man’s jokes and dance like a deranged child at the crappy 70’s disco. I can even be persuaded, with enough champagne, to have a blazing row with the groom’s sexist mates and be sick in the toilet. I think my superior talents as a wedding guest must be well known, as this weekend I am going to the wedding of someone whom I have met only twice before. The fact that I will not know a single soul should, I think, give me permission to make an even bigger fool of myself than usual. I really can’t wait.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

In Praise of Radio 4...

For someone with a penchant for melancholy, Start the Week yesterday was a lovely, erm, well, start to the week, featuring as it did both Patti Smith on poetry and Nicholas Cleobury on Mozart’s Requiem. Mozart’s Requiem happens to be one of my favourite pieces of music, ranking right up there with Devo’s Whip It and Dead KennedysCalifornia Über Alles. (For anyone who is yet to discover the deliciousness of melancholia, listen to the Lacrimosa whilst sitting alone at the top of a very big hill. Bliss.)

Following yesterday’s programme I feel I can finally make a confession, however. I never listen to it all the way through. I cry at the Lacrimosa but by the time we get to the Sanctus I am flicking through my playlists already. I have ascribed this variously to: a) the fact that I have ADHD when it comes to things of high culture; b) I have an aversion to seeing things through to the end; c) I have yet to resolve my class issues. All of which, you will note, focus on my own inadequacies.

So imagine how bloody smug I felt yesterday on discovering that Mozart wrote the Lacrimosa and then promptly pegged it. The Requiem was finished by one of Mozart’s pupils, and Constanza’s third choice composer at that, the first two having caffled at the enormity of the task. Cleobury agrees with me that the ending is rubbish. (Well, his actual words were ‘not very good’, and he then promptly withdrew the remark, so I suppose I had best not libel him or he may do a Gina Ford and start threatening to sue anonymous bloggers for making defamatory comments. Missed that story? See it here – it’s truly hilarious. Über nanny gets sensitive.)

So anyway, a collective of modern composers have written a new ending to be debuted at Canterbury Cathedral some time in December. I live a very long way from Canterbury Cathedral so I shan’t be there, but if anyone happens to go could you let me know if you get bored?

PS. This was followed by Woman’s Hour, and I usually do love it’s rather Home Counties brand of feminism. Today Martha Kearney was interviewing a psychotherapist who has written a book - ‘The Anxious Gardener’ - about the anxiety, loss and disappointment provoked by, yes, you guessed right – gardening. I have only one thing to say: stop it lady, its people like you give the rest of us a bad name. (And if you happen to be suffering from any gardening-related neurosis, can I suggest that you just get out more?)

The BBC – public service broadcasting at it’s best.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Cameron and Relative Poverty...

So David ‘Diddy’ Cameron tentatively acknowledges the significance of relative poverty. Mmmm. I suppose we should be pleased, but for some reason all it does for me is trigger a residual bitterness from the Thatcher years.

The Black Report, published in 1980, was a monumental piece of research that proved - in as much as a piece of research ever proves anything - the link between social inequality and ill health. I am no expert on this (and I trust that there will be someone out there who will correct me if I am wrong), but my understanding of this research is that it showed conclusively that it is the gap between rich and poor that is the most significant indicator of ill health, not the absolute conditions in which poor people live (ie poor diet, poor housing etc). As the gap increases in modern capitalist societies, the health of the poor correspondingly decreases. The Black report argued that once a basic standard of living is achieved by a society, the health of the nation will only be improved by reducing inequalities.

Thatcher, unsurprisingly, sought to repress the report. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – that well known hot-bed of socialist radicalism – suggests that ‘the 1980 Black Report on inequalities in health has attained almost iconic status as the textbook example of a Government 'cover up'.’ Heady stuff indeed.

So I suppose I should be grateful, Mr Cameron, that you are bringing a long awaited touch of humanity to the Tory party. But somehow, I’m not.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Inspired by Angela Sinfield...

I heard Angela’s story on the radio today It might have been just one more story of a working class young person going off the rails and a mother at her wits' end. But it isn’t.

Angela is the mother of a young woman/girl (which?) who, at the tender age of 12, became involved with a group of older boys and men who plied her, along with several of her friends, with gifts, money and finally drugs in exchange for sexual favours amongst the group. Hers is, sadly, a common and unremarkable tale of social exclusion, poverty of opportunity and hierarchy of exploitation. Angela involved Social Services and Barnardo’s in an attempt to rein her daughter back in. She discovered there was a name for what was happening to her daughter – grooming – and that it was happening to young women and girls up and down the country. Between the ages of 12 and 15 Angela lost her daughter to this culture of exploitation, powerless to prosecute her abusers without her daughter’s co-operation.

The story does have a happy ending – Angela’s daughter eventually went to college to make up for the missing years and mother and daughter are now reunited. But this is not necessarily the remarkable part.

Angela anonymously took part in a Channel 4 documentary to raise awareness of the issue: several months later, the BNP used Angela’s (anonymous) evidence to stir up racial hatred in the run-up to the local elections in Keighley, West Yorkshire. Why? Because some of the men involved in her daughter’s exploitation were Asian.

Angela could have kept her anonymity and refused to comment. She was incensed, however, at the far right using her daughter’s experience as a convenient peg on which to hang some knee-jerk racism. Angela took the incredibly brave step of stepping out of the shadow of anonymity and decided to stand in the local elections in opposition to the incumbent BNP councillor. Angela is not an educated, middle class woman. She is a very ordinary, working-class, single parent who simply knew that stirring up racial hatred was wrong. The issue, she argued, was one of criminality and not race. Angela whupped their ass in the election – a swing to labour of 11.4% in an election where the national trend suggested a protest vote against Blair’s war in Iraq. Voter turnout was 58.8% - one of the highest in the country in an area where political apathy is high. And since her incredible victory she has, along with local MP Ann Cryer, affected a change in the law so that ‘hearsay’ evidence can be used to prosecute men who groom and abuse young women.

I don’t know Keighley, but I know the culture. It could just as well be the place where I grew up: a small, industrial town, decimated by the decline of the manufacturing industries; a working-class culture marked by poverty of opportunity and a melee of cultural tensions. I was lucky. I got myself an education. But for all her lack of qualifications and formal political philosophy, Angela is the one who has really made a difference in the world.

I applaud Angela Sinfield for her courage and integrity. I applaud the people of Keighley for having the good sense to vote for her.

Monday, November 20, 2006

How to Become a Psychotherapist

  • Ensure that you come from a dysfunctional family with at least one parent who expects you to parent them (even when you are three.)
  • Have an existential crisis that begins at puberty and goes on until your late 20’s, marked by a series of intense and ultimately doomed relationships.
  • Develop an unnatural interest in all things melancholic, (unless CBT is your thing, in which case develop an irritating habit of telling people how to think and feel.)
  • Make sure you are a middle child/eldest child/youngest child/only child and develop the appropriate neurosis. It’s important to be able to empathise with your clients.
  • Develop a capacity for introspection that borders on just the right side of narcissism.
  • Have therapy. Lots of it. And when you think you’ve had enough, have some more just to be on the safe side.
  • Do not develop clinical depression, a life-long eating disorder or a psychotic illness. Clients need empathy. They do not need a therapist who is more fucked up than they are.
  • Have children. It helps you to empathise with all the crappy parents you meet in the consulting room.
  • Have a trust fund/find a very rich partner or resign yourself to funding yourself through 5 years of training and spending the next 10 years paying it off.
  • Learn to be yourself. (And not by reading self help books.)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

On Yummy Mummies...

What a monster we have created.

Who decided that we should professionalise motherhood? Now don’t get me wrong, I object to the double shift that most women work as much as the next card carrying feminist. And I have always believed that raising our children should go down as our best achievement as we prepare to shuffle off this mortal coil. But when our sisters in the 60's, 70’s and 80’s fought for the private sphere to be made political – for women’s work in the home to be recognised as, indeed, work - did they realise they were tilling the ground for the emergence of a new form of child abuse in the form of the career-mother? I suspect not.

Everybody knows one. The stay-at-home mother who feeds her pre-school child on a diet of Tumble Tots, Monkey Music and Play Group For The Gifted Child, followed by an hour of Mozart, a soupçon of French for toddlers, and some basic pre-verbal algebra. They relax by making pictures with macaroni or baking organic, wholemeal fairy cakes and the day hasn’t ended successfully until daddy has read a chapter from ‘Homer: the Picture Book’. The poor child ends another day wondering whether it has made the grade.

Do they realise that, as mother subjects them to yet another round of work toddler stylee, she is doing this out of love? I suspect not. Do they somehow recognise that mother is doing this out of a desire to offset her own fears of inadequacy? That their own emotional needs are secondary? Eventually, I suspect, they do.

Just for the record, children (in particular very small children) require relationship above all else. Over-structuring their time leaves little room for the spontaneous development of attachment that will provide the blue print for all of their later relationships. That is not to say that intellectual stimulation and structure are not important. But they must take second place to the child’s capacity to experience itself in relation to a loving and accepting other. Sitting with your child in front of CBeebies, chatting and taking pleasure in their pleasure, is, ironically, probably far better for their emotional development than any number of outings to Professional Toddler Stimulation plc.

You know who you are. Just stop it.

PS. I know of a friend of a friend of a friend who is über Yummy Mummy. Her husband is an entrepreneur who earns decent money by working 60-hour weeks. She refuses to do his washing or ironing (she does her own and the children’s) and hires a cleaner (probably an African psychotherapist, but that’s another story) on the grounds that ‘[her] job is motherhood’. I must admit – child development issues aside - I can’t help but admire her chutzpah.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

On Mothers and Daughters...

I awake filled with the milk of human kindness. I briefly wonder why, but, working on the premise that only misery responds well to analysis, I let it be. This seems like a good opportunity to visit The Mother, requiring as it does reserves of good will and tolerance.

I have been seated at her kitchen table for approximately 3 minutes and already I am aware that the local park is once again home to a flasher (and the Pope, is he still Catholic?); she is devastated as a very distant relative has prostate cancer (I wasn’t aware of his existence until this moment), and The Father is a lazy, selfish shit (which I have known since I was able to understand the words ‘lazy’ and ‘selfish’. The ‘shit’ part she added when I reached the age of consent to swearing).

The Mother has elevated the one-sided conversation to an art form. Her expertise is so widely recognised that the local college has approached her to teach an NVQ in ‘Lack of Social Skills'. The Father has availed himself of the opportunity for respite and is recumbent in front of the television. Before long I have adopted a familiar, defeated pose. My eyes glaze over and my energy saps. I begin to muse on my options:

Option 1. Elbow my way into the conversation until I force her to acknowledge that I too am in the room. Benefits: sometimes this actually works. Cost: it takes a lot of energy and leaves me feeling irritated.

Option 2. Give in, and let her bombard me with her unique version of white noise until she gets tired. Benefits: It’s familiar and we all know our role. Cost: it takes a lot of energy and leaves me feeling irritated.

Option 3. Find a genuine interest in her deliverances and accept who she is with love and compassion, even if that person is critical, carping and self-obsessed and even if I am, more often than not, on the wrong end of it. Benefits: she may find some compassion back. Cost: it still takes energy, which in itself leaves me feeling irritated.

It seems I am destined, at least for today, to leave feeling irritated. So I opt for the path of least resistance and succumb to a crushingly boring collection of stories about people I can’t remember, people I never knew, and people she insists that I would know if I ever showed an interest in her life. I make no murmur of dissent, which is about the nearest I can get to showing compassion for her lot. After about 3 hours, which in fact only lasts for 30 minutes, she says indignantly ‘So, there you go!’ and folds her arms triumphantly, as if I have demanded that she inform me of every thought that has gone through her head in the past week, and she, martyr that she is, has stood up to the task. I feel bewildered, and, of course, tired and irritated. She still hasn’t asked me how I am. I make my excuses and leave.

Later that evening I speak to Sister # 2.

“I went to see mother today,” I tell her.

“I know” replies sister. "She thinks you must be crap at your job. She says you don't listen."

We both laugh.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

On Shopping....

I was shopping today. Food shopping. Not my favourite part of the week, and God knows that Saturday morning at Sainsbury's is actually the first circle of Hell. But today was going to be OK because a dear friend had given me some wonderful Latin stuff and this was to be my first hearing. I took a deep breath, plugged in my iPod and started to semi-salsa through the fruit and veg. All was well in the world.

(BTW, the iPod is a fantastic invention for therapists. Plug it in and block out the world, so even if those clients see you in Sainsbury's, you sure as hell don't see them because you are in a club in Havana dancing with a gorgeous Cuban who is only interested in your sexy moves...)

I get to the check out. All is still well with the world. And then the check-out woman starts to talk to me. I smile inanely, but give out very clear signals that I don't want idle chatter. I am good at body language - I am a therapist after all. She ignores what her unconscious mind must definitely be telling her, and continues to chat to me. I tell her I can't hear properly, what with the fact that I have ear-plugs in and all, which usually do pump out loud music in the normal scheme of things. And so she starts to shout. 'OK' I think to myself, 'she really does need to tell me something important' and so I reluctantly, and quite petulantly, probably, remove said ear piece.

"It's busy today, isn't it?"

'Is that it?' I think. I have removed myself from my moment of bliss in Havana so she can state the bleeding obvious and, irritatingly, she appears to expect me to respond.

" It is" I say without further comment, and plug back in. But Havana has gone and I find myself pondering whether she is contractually obliged to make conversation, or whether she just has a compulsion to be friendly to people who don't give a shit.

I return home in a fury which far exceeds the provocation. I tell The Husband, who semi-listens in bemusement.

" It sounds like she was just being friendly" he offers.

My rage turns on him ( though only in my head, of course.) He looks like he knows. "Perhaps you need to go to therapy" he says .......

10 things your therapist will never tell you.....

  1. They almost certainly come from a family that is only mildly less dysfunctional than your own. It is a well-known fact that we train to be therapists in order to heal our dysfunctional parents, and that we usually fail in this task. Those who do not have dysfunctional parents realise quickly that this is not a job for the fainthearted and that there are much easier ways of earning a living (cf #2)
  1. You probably earn more than they do.
  1. They will row with their partner about who last did the washing up, whose turn it is to cook dinner and why they have to spend christmas with his/her parents again. Do not be perturbed by this fact. The post-row analysis definitely has therapy-speak written all over it.
  1. They fantasise about stacking shelves in Sainsbury’s.
  1. They almost certainly watch crap TV and read beach novels. Personally I draw the line at soap operas and most reality TV (note the crucial use of the word ‘most’ in that sentence), but I do not spend my evenings listening to Mahler and reading Russian novels. And nor does any other therapist I know.
  1. They go to conferences for the opportunity to flirt and consume large amounts of alcohol, just like everybody else.
  1. They are not cured. Nobody ever is, so abandon all such lofty ambitions now. The best we can hope for is the capacity to regulate our internal world in a marginally better way than that taught to us by our parents. Hopefully your therapist can do this.
  1. They don’t like it when you get angry with them. They will most likely know that is an important part of the relational dynamic, the transference is useful therapeutic information, the process itself will become transformative etc etc. But they still don’t like it.
  1. They actually do care about you.
  1. They don’t do it for the money (cf # 2 again)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

What do Belle de Jour and I have in common?

  1. We both get paid for services that in an ideal world would be provided by a loved one.
  2. Most of our clients wouldn't willingly admit in public that they actually are one of our clients.
  3. Confidentiality is everything. Without it we are damned.
  4. Occasionally I bump into a client whilst out being a normal person. It would only be more awkward if I actually had had sex with them.
  5. Most of the time I am the person whom my clients need me to be. Not consciously. Certainly not manipulatively. And that person changes from moment to moment. But there are aspects of me that clients will never knowingly see. (The unthought known is an entirely different matter...) Hence this blog. You might call it self-indulgent. I call it just more therapy.