In unfolding my thoughts and ideas to write this article I am aware of a general feeling of panic. So, I sit, close my eyes, and look at my thoughts. “It won’t be enough”. ”How I write won’t be good enough”. “Readers of Inside Out will be more knowledgeable of systems theory, paradigms, dynamics, than I am”. So, OK, I know where I am. Rein in a little, I know these thoughts well. They are familiar, they’re old friends, friends that don’t want me to feel a failure, don’t want me to look a fool. Old friends that are used to protecting me from the “better” judgements of another.
What is happening in my body as I think these familiar old thoughts? I note a general shiver, my heart full, my mouth feels dry. I stay mindful, focused. I hear the thought again. “It’s too big, this task of writing about Women in Psychotherapy is too big for me”. I cannot absorb such a concept. How can I encompass such a large topic. I can only know me, Mary Collins, as I am, as I work and as I connect with my co- travellers, the women and men, who come to work with me in therapy. I can speak only for myself, my own experiencing, my own knowing without expecting that I can or ought to know or speak for other women in psychotherapy.
So I move my pen to the top of the page and trace out again the title heading I was given to write about. Check back inside again. How does that feel? – more open around my heart, warmer, I hear……”yes I can, I can do this”.
My journey to this moment in my earthly paradise, brought me into a military family with a strong belief in discipline, order and a big investment in the belief that ”life is a struggle”. Love and duty were indefinable for me when I was growing up (these days I see myself growing, without the “up”). My parents gave every thing they could to rearing and wanting the best for each of their three children.
I then journeyed through the labyrinth of nursing training in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, a minefield of love, anger, frustration, humiliation, gratitude, friendship, sexual exploration, guilt, caring, hurt, confusion, effort, criticism, blame, support from newly cherished friends and much, much more. I continued the exploration of life through the dynamics of the nursing role in various ways, in various places, finding greatest nurturing with people who were dependent for continued physical life on haemodialysis machines despite chronic kidney failure. It was during this time that I began to search for meaning in disease. I didn’t find any. I had neither language nor structure to think in other than a random, confused way and it was impossible to find anyone to even begin this conversation with me as in 1974 the only working world I had experience of was the medical world.
Defining my own Needs
I married my husband David and had two sons, one in 1977, the other in 1981. I left haemodialysis nursing to work in a Family Planning Clinic for about three years and for the first time I began to really experience how much women struggled within the restrictions of our society. The same struggle was an integral part of my own reality. I took to this new experience like a fish to water (which reminds me of Albert Einstein’s quote: “The fish will be the last to discover water”). I was thirty-two years of age when I first articulated for myself that I perhaps had needs and choices which I had not attended to, and that I had not allowed myself to have thoughts about. Thoughts that could be defined for myself, my own needs, my own wants and thus, my own choices rather than having them defined by my father, my brother, my male boss, the male doctor in the clinic (and indeed authority female figures too, whom I perceived as having the power of maleness, by virtue of my perception of their ”authority”). I accepted authority as male and maleness acquired the power and control of authority.
As I began the slow and painful journey of acknowledging my own investments in a world of struggles and hurt, power and confusion, and the control needs of a patriarchal system, I allowed myself to bring forth with the guidance and support of friends, the hurt, terrified and confused child that was within me. In this context I also unfolded the realisation that guidance was familiar and acceptable, but that support was extremely unfamiliar and almost impossible for me to accept.
In 1985, having embarked on the Masters in Psychotherapy Course, I encountered head-on, my overwhelming belief in my own stupidity. The tutors seemed so knowing, so easily able to absorb the concepts of psychospeak and the terminology of family systems, while I, struggling and labouring feverishly, persisted in feeling stupid, inadequate and unable to assimilate the language of psychotherapy into my day to day experience.
All these experiences, among many others at one level or another, connected with the established patterns of my old belief systems of not being “good” enough, clever enough, useful enough, in fact just not being……enough!
I have within the past seven years or so consciously and knowingly begun the process of being aware of these experiences, of coming to own them, learning to recognise how the experience feels and acts in the now. I have come to understand how beliefs and thoughts are like automatically self-winding tapes in my head, recognised my learned necessity for noise in my head to act as governors to keep my system ordered and functional and come to know that we, each of us, talk our beliefs to ourselves all the time. The problem is we just don’t listen.
I have come to be aware of learning to be still, to listening to myself, acknowledging my own uniqueness, my own connectedness to and within the cosmos, and that how I am, who I am, and what I can do is enough.
Being in the Moment
Having read my opening sentences you will see that my old familiar thoughts, my friends still like to let me know that they are there if I need them and I appreciate them for that. They also appreciate being recognised and named quickly now, rather than being left to chaotically charge all over the system, unknown, unnamed and without direction. When named and acknowledged my thoughts and I can choose how we are going to be in this moment…..each moment…..moment to moment to moment for as long as I choose to stay aware.
And thus, I am this woman, this human being in psychotherapy, I am all of this, all of my experiencing, processing, feeling and awarenessing as therapist, woman, person. I do not want to separate all of whom I am from the other human beings who choose to come to work with me.
George Kelly used the term “subsuming the experiencing of the other” in therapy. I prefer rather to make contact. To make contact by being able to listen with my total self and to connect with the persons experience by being open and unrestricted by my own. To connect with the other’s experience of their story/history in now, this moment. I do very little work with the telling of the story about the experience.
As was my own experience and I believe the experience of most people in personal growth and personal development work, it is the child in the adult who quickly appears to express the experiencing. I love to work with the child. We use simple language, we talk very little. The work is at a very easy, non-violent and gentle pace. How a child organises is so simple and beautiful, and usually feels very sad and lonely. Being able to be there for a little child is a privilege and a great joy for me.
Mary Collins is in psychotherapy practice with Pauline Beegan and Rachel Sweetman at Rock Road Psychotherapy Centre, 110 Rock Road, Booterstown, Co.Dublin. Ph. 01-2882749.