Counselling for the darkness of depression.
I was recently in a conversation that brought home to me how much of what is called counselling is about a basic human need. I was speaking with a client, and he was telling me how important to him was the feeling of family, the feeling of belonging. For him, not to have that meant he felt a deep loneliness, which he described as a kind of darkness resembling depression.
As he spoke and I listened, my mind kept holding onto two words that he had used, family and darkness. For reasons I wasn’t fully aware of, I wanted to keep some connection between those words.
It wasn’t until the end of the session that I suggested that maybe the darkness was being excluded from his life. It wasn’t being invited to those “family gatherings”, so to speak. Most people recognize that our personality contains different and sometimes conflicting traits. In addition, many of us divide up our characteristics into categories of good and bad, and then chose which we want to keep and which we don’t want to know about. The consequence is that though our dark moods belong to us, are, in truth, members of our family, we disown them. But a dark mood is not the cause of our misery. It is a symptom. Pain does not cause a backache, nor does trying to ignore the pain help us get rid of it. Such responses are similar to shooting the messenger because he brings bad news. The bad news may be exactly what will help us.
Let’s go back to what the client was saying, that he is lonely and experiences his life sunk in darkness. He yearns for family–a partner, children. He tries hard not to feel lonely. He tries to fill up his life with as much activity as possible, but it doesn’t help. The loneliness is still there. He then falls into a darkness that has now become deeper. Things are getting worse.
Family is what he dreams of, and darkness is what he has. If he begins to look at what he has, he’s confronted by things he doesn’t like, things he has labelled bad. If he can bear to be with that bad stuff, he begins to form a relationship with his darkness. He learns that this lonely man who lives in him feels no one listens or cares about him. In his internal conversation, after allowing himself to fully take in the sorrow of this estranged part of himself, the client may feel some regret and some compassion for himself.
What follows is often a silent, thoughtful moment, during which the client may hold both his sorrow and an impulse to ask if he might do things differently.
This imagined story does not have an ending. It leaves us questioning. However, we can be fairly certain that should the client engage with his darkness, new possibilities will emerge. He will have taken a first step in getting to know and transforming a disavowed part of himself. Long-separated members of his internal family will met. They may begin to talk, listen, care.