Telling your story

‘You know more about me than anyone else does!’ said my patient. Then she laughed at the picture this made, of a lonely person who talks to nobody but her herbalist. In fact, she is surrounded by family and friends, and this couldn’t be further from the truth.
But I knew what she meant. During a consultation, people don’t just talk about their physical symptoms. Sometimes, these don’t come up at all. Whether they mean to or not, they use the time to review their lives, and it’s true that in general, we don’t do that in our day-to-day interactions with those around us. Each relationship shapes the information that is exchanged, and nobody gets the whole picture. And we often feel that nobody really ‘sees’ us beyond the roles we inhabit: parent, friend, colleague, neighbour, and so on.
It’s partly because we edit what we ‘give out’ as we go along. Everyone – except those on the autistic spectrum - does this, and it’s an essential part of social interaction. We want other people to like us, to think well of us. But in the therapeutic context, the focus is on the things that aren’t working so well, and so the picture that emerges has more depth, more shadows in it, than usual. And it’s this being ‘seen’ in our vulnerability, our not coping, that moves us towards healing.
Hence, the strange intimacy of the therapeutic relationship. It’s been well explored in the areas of counselling and psychotherapy, but not so much in the complementary therapies. My patient had recognised it, but often it goes completely unacknowledged, and that doesn’t matter at all.