This is our truth, tell us yours
Jem is the resident philosopher, and will know if it really was Plato who suggested that we all live in a cave, and see not reality, but the shadows on the wall of the cave.
I’ve always thought that the beauty of that allegory is that we have two choices, to try and make our shadow larger, or clearer, or to identify it, or to put more wood on the fire to shed more light.
The thought came to mind when dealing with a client this week.
I am not medically qualified. If a client tells me they are depressed, I may probe to find out why they think that, but I’m not in the business of challenging diagnoses, and if the client presents with a self diagnosis of depression I’m more interested in why they haven’t seen a professional than why they believe in the dubious art of self-diagnosis.
The client who brought all this to mind has a clinical diagnosis of anxiety and depression. They disclosed to me this week that they also believe they have a problem that can be addressed by a 12 step programme, and that that problem contributed to their anxiety and depression.
I was struck after the conversation with my client that my solution to the allegory of the cave was not theirs. By adding their dependency to the aetiological complex that they believe is underpinning their symptoms of anxiety and depression they may have been adding to their shadow, not shedding more light.
The problem with shadows is that they encourage interpretation, and they shift. Trying to give names or labels to a shadow is in my mind’s eye a turning away from the light, and a study of the effect, not the cause.
I fear for my client, that they are more concerned with the labelling of the shadow, a task as fruitless as studying the man in the moon, than they are with shedding light on the causes of their symptoms.
I can write about this here because I can protect confidentiality, and because I am not responsible for my client’s treatment or diagnosis,merely with trying to help them with a particular part of their journey. It would be wrong, too, to intervene when my client has a whole collection of therapists, volunteers and sponsors to help their journey. I would be just another voice, providing conflicting advice to someone who has already experienced CBT, and who would, I am sure, embrace any other therapy if it were offered with sufficient authority. The boundaries of my contract with my client mean I am not able to show them the shadows I think they need to explore, that they have become a process junkie, happy to believe they are addressing their problems by embracing this programme or that, happy so long as the nameless thing has a label that describes what it resembles today. If I were to tell them that the dependency they fear may be only a symptom, not a cause, would I be helping or hindering their progress?
I re-wrote that last paragraph twice as I recognised the warning signs of my own white knight complex, my naive desire to be the saviour, the bringer of light in their world. I am not Lucifer, bringer of light, morning star of the afflicted and fallen angel, just a guy who deals with people and has to sometimes see things that are the greatest temptation, the temptation to bring change and enlightenment to others.
My client needs to be the agent of their own change, and already has, in my opinion, too many voices in their life and in their head, giving names and labels to the shadows. My job, my duty, is to stick to my role in helping them, and say no more than is necessary to help with the part of their journey that we have contracted to share.
My friends will recognise how much it would once have hurt me to say that, how much it still troubles me, and how far I have come to be able to say it at all.