For most of us there’s often an element of uncertainty in our lives: we never quite know what’s around the next corner. We could experience this in our family life, in our recreation or in our work. This unknown aspect of our existence can add spice and interest to otherwise ordinary days or can cause unease and disquiet, depending on one’s outlook.
In the world of counselling and psychotherapy it’s no different, one never knows what issues will be brought into the therapy room when a new client comes through the door. Sometimes there will be some background information because things have been mentioned in the e-mail or phone call when contact was initially made. This knowledge is often offered by the potential client because they want to know if I can help them in that area or if it is something outside of my field. While helpful in some respects, I prefer to know nothing of a client until they sit in the chair and they start to tell their story. For many that might be an unsettling scenario, but I have to own up to having a penchant for this uncertainty and I actively embrace it.
So what sort of issues surface in the therapy room? The short answer is – everything. The most frequent problem seems to be anxiety and depression, which when examined is often linked to other underlying issues such as relationships, work, self esteem, addictions, childhood abuse and money. So it’s important to unravel what’s below the surface and covert, rather than what’s floating on the top.
Uncertainty of course is not just a visitor to my domain; the client no doubt will be feeling some unease at meeting a counsellor for the first time. They may wonder if they will get along together, what will be expected of them, will it really help and countless other thoughts. The relationship between counsellor and client is paramount for psychological change to occur, although the client may feel at times some dislike for the therapist if they are being challenged on deeply held beliefs or viewpoint.
For many people it’s more comfortable to carry thinking and behaving in their habitual ways rather than make changes, because at first these changes feel all wrong. In counselling we look at the neural pathways that get established in the brain over time that maintain patterns of thought. These pathways are like tracks through a wood that we keep going down because to veer off the well trodden path and make a new one is hard. So it’s not unusual for clients to want to alter and improve their lives but seek reassurance that they themselves do not have to change.
A popular approach to making those changes within therapy is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and works by the client being shown the link between events that happen in our lives, our beliefs about those events and our resulting emotions and behaviour. A key aspect of my work with CBT are the `Ten Unhelpful or Irrational Patterns of Thought` - a handout that I often give to clients. Listed here are the ways of thinking that as the title suggests are unhelpful in our lives. Most of us will experience these at some time or another but they are like the tide at Weston-Super-Mare; they come and go. The danger is when we think in those ways rigidly and inflexible all the time.
The Ten Unhelpful Patterns of Thought are:
- All or nothing or black and white thinking - perfectionism. All or nothing thinking is extreme thinking that can lead to extreme emotions. People either love you or hate you. Something is either perfect or a disaster.
- Overgeneralising - sweeping statements. The error of drawing global conclusions from one or more events. We tend to assume irrationally, that if one thing goes wrong everything else will.
- Mental filtering - focusing on the negative. Glass half empty. Mental filtering is a bias in the way you process information in which you acknowledge only information that fits with a belief you hold.
- Mind reading - assuming you know what others are thinking. With mind reading the tendency is to assume that others are thinking negative thoughts about you.
- Fortune telling - you think you know what is going to happen. You probably don’t possess extrasensory perception that allows you to see into the future
- Awfulising or Catastrophising - exaggerating the importance of something. Thinking that a situation is worse than it is. Awfulising is taking a relatively minor negative event and imagining all sorts of disasters resulting from that one small event.
- Emotional reasoning - assuming your negative emotions are how things are. Confusing feelings with external reality. Your partner has been spending long nights at the office with a co-worker for the last month. You feel jealous and suspicious. Based on these feelings you conclude that your partner is having an affair with their co-worker.
- Labelling and mislabelling - using inaccurate and emotive language to describe a person or an event. You may label the world as `unsafe` or totally unfair`. The error here is to label something that is too complex for a definitive label.
- Making Demands - Thinking Inflexibly. Got to, need to, have to, should, must, ought to statements - result in guilt about yourself. “I should have looked after my parents better” .
- Personalization and blame, removing yourself from the centre of the Universe - you see yourself as the cause of some negative external event. Taking excessive responsibility for bad things. Major negative events are very rarely the responsibility of just one person.
Embracing uncertainty means leaving that well worn path and making new ones, despite the feeling of strangeness that will occur. It’s about thinking in a different way and recognizing when those negative automatic thoughts rise up and consume us. We have a choice of how we think and it’s possible in the first second or two of a stimulus to change how we react: replacing those old tired patterns of thought and thinking in a new way about ourselves, or in fact about anything.
An indicator of one’s propensity for `stuckness` might be seen in simple ways. When we buy clothes, are they usually in the same style and colours? Do we mainly do the same type of holiday or do we actively seek out and experience different cultures? Do we experiment with food: trying new dishes and recipes? Do we rigidly stick to the same make of car and get in a spin when something changes, like the man I knew who bought a brand new Ford Escort every two years. As we know the Escort was a very popular reliable motor and had a run of around thirty-six years. It was produced in around six different Marks, many special editions and went through numerous transformations and upgrades. When it was eventually replaced by the Focus the man in question didn’t buy one because it wasn’t an Escort. Had this new model just had an `Escort` badge on it, he would have.
As mentioned at the start of this piece, uncertainty can add spice and colour to one’s life and no doubt this is partly why the Lottery and Bingo are so popular: we are uncertain if we are going to win. On a higher level, there may be times when we consider our own existence and ruminate on where we came from and where we are going when our time is done. Many will have a solid belief that they know the answer but many will experience uncertainty around this existential question and this is another of the issues that surface in the counselling room.
If you are currently in therapy while reading this, you will have noticed that your therapist does not give you advice or tell you what to do. Instead they will support and guide you while you explore your own thoughts, feelings and behaviour before reaching your own conclusions. This is because there is far more value in what you discover for yourself than things that we are merely told. With this in mind, do take this opportunity to stray from the comfortable and the familiar and stretch yourself mentally and make some fresh new pathways in your brain, it will feel odd, but do it anyway and wholeheartedly embrace uncertainty.
What To do Next
If you feel counselling is maybe what you are looking for, or if you require further information the next step is very simple. Visit the Contact page and drop David a message via email, or call.
To book a counselling session with David, or to request further information, please call in confidence 01823 443022.
David Trott © 2019