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The National Council of Psychotherapists

Est. 1971



When we consider the amount of sloping shoulder, blame spreading, finger pointing that can go on in politics, families and within the individual, we can sometimes see the value in not engaging in this behaviour as therapists. That value being, that perhaps for the first time ever, the person sitting before us is being really listened to, without prejudgement or interruptions to finger-point again.


What that client brings to the therapy room may have previously been pooh-poohed, disregarded or manipulated in such a way as to leave the client believing that they are entirely to blame for whatever it is. By not engaging in the ‘who said what first’ argument, the therapist can also bring to the client’s situation an element of calm and understanding, of not taking sides, of neutrality – except that the therapist is there to assist the client. But this is different to taking sides.


Sometimes, however, memory can be hidden away deep in the mind, away from free recall, maybe in an unconscious effort to protect the individual from reliving the painful situation that was the start of it. And as memories are hidden away, for the benefit of the client, the fall-out of emotion seeps into everyday life for that person, to their bemusement running their reactions to certain situations, as they don’t know why they feel like that, or suddenly bursting through in fragmented flashbacks. The therapist may also wish to consider that memory retrieval, if pushed, can be traumatic if not prepared for properly, and may not even be necessary at all.


However, the therapist may also wish to consider that whatever the source of the memories, be they hidden or freely recalled, they may have been affected by whispering, by the repeating and replaying of the memory so often that it has been altered by this – just as Chinese whispers change as they get passed on – or by the patchy remembering of hidden things that does not include all that there was of importance to the situation. For the hidden, in that patchiness can lay self-blame, guilt, and an overwhelming feeling of being the one who was wrong, and similar self-hatred can also be found in openly remembered memories, where the repeating, and possibly also the reinforcement of others scapegoating efforts, has altered and changed them.


When the unconscious is ready to reveal, it will do so, and the therapist can assist the client in being ready to deal with the attendant emotions. Sometimes simply giving information about how the memory can hide things to protect us, or can alter things to reduce the trauma, this gives the unconscious an outlet. It has to be the client’s choice to recall or not, and sometimes the situation can be dealt with by means of generic attention. We can tell stories of others dealing with similar, which can allow the unconscious to make new meanings, without it being required that the client bare all. It may take time. But always, I am aware that there are potential changes there in the memories, reinforcements of the ‘bad’ – but to dissect the changes and forensically focus on the negative is not the important issue, as all memories are representations of what happened anyway; it is the client’s perception that is the issue. Perhaps we are whisperers too, just whispering a different story?


Rosalyn Young.

R.M.N., L.N.C.P.


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