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Christmas in Therapy

Updated: Feb 22, 2021

It has been a while since my last blog.

Work has quietened down and has given me the space to think and start writing again. And what a time it is. We are just a over a week away from Christmas and it is unlikely that Christmas will be what many of us are used to. It is such a topsy turvy time for us with Covid cases increasing, certainly here in the south east and many places entering Tier 3. The Government have agreed a small period of time to allow families to get together after this awful year. I know there are many mixed views on this - some feel it is too risky and others are desperate to spend some time with their family. Regardless of your views, I think Christmas will be tinged with sadness for so many.

So how does this play out in the therapy room? To be honest, for me, there is little change within my therapy room. Many workplaces celebrate Christmas Jumper Day and put Christmas decorations up. This is something that you will never see me do in my therapy room - and not because I am a Christmas Grinch. For all the Christmas cheer, fairy lights, Christmas jumpers and mince pies, for many, Christmas is an exceptionally tough time of year. Many of those people you see in Christmas jumpers and playing Christmas music, are hiding their true sadness.

Regardless of faith and custom, Christmas can be a time that many choose to spend with family and give presents to our nearest and dearest. It is a time to celebrate what we have and recognise how lucky we are. We often try and tell ourselves that we shouldn't feel this sadness because we feel more fortunate than others. But since when has sadness and struggles become a competition? When we did start invalidating our own feelings and experiences because others appear to struggle more than us?

I have to say the most common thing I hear in my therapy room is 'I am sure that you see clients that have it worse than me, and I am probably wasting your time'. But I am there for my clients. Truly for them. To hold them, support them and hear them. In that session, I have no interest in anyone else's struggles - only that of my client. So it really isn't a competition.

I have digressed slightly and I am aware that I have the tendency to do this! So I will get back on track. For many people, Christmas is a time when they feel their grief becomes more heightened. And this isn't just for recent losses - I lost my dad 19 years ago and I still wish that at Christmas, he is in my front room, wearing a suit and tie (old school), eating copious amounts of peanuts and reading every instruction book for every technical present we have! Christmas brings it home that I no longer have him and whilst it is more manageable than 19 years ago, it still brings some sadness. So there will be people who have lost loved ones recently and a long time ago but for many the grief doesn't completely go away.

Loss isn't just about the death of a loved one. Loss and grief comes in many forms. It can be grief for the loss of the life that someone wishes that they had - they look around and see happy families, sitting around the dinner table where there is glorious food, glasses of wine and lots of laughter. Some have never had that - some people have had extremely tough childhoods and never really felt the love of a family. Some did have a solid family unit but there was little love or affection shown. Christmas brings it home everything that they don't have and wished they did have.

Maybe Christmas reminds them of living with someone struggling with addiction and that the addiction comes to the forefront at this time of year. Some people may have experienced a recent break up and others may not have yet their life partner yet and feel very lonely.

There is also the issue of finances. We live in a materialistic society where the latest fads bombard us on a daily basis. It can be really hard managing the expectations of our family, friends and especially children. It is easier said than done to say that we should focus on less materialistic gifts - when you are struggling financially it really brings it home that you are unable to give your kids, family and friends the gifts that you would like to. I think many more people will be struggling financially this year because of Covid.

I know that this blog feels a little depressing and I am sorry for that. It is sometimes easier to just try and focus on the positives. But I owe it to my clients to recognise and validate their experiences. I am here for them. I hear them. I see them. I recognise their pain and I will hold that pain with them and support them through this time. When to the rest of the world they are celebrating and appearing positive, I will provide that safe space where they can process what Christmas really means to them.

So will Christmas be present in the therapy room? Well yes and no. I won't wear a Christmas jumper and I won't have decorations in my therapy room.I want my clients to feel safe and comfortable and not reminded of something that is very painful. Yes, there are lots of Christmas decorations outside my therapy room. But for my clients, that one hour where they can escape the festivities can be really helpful. And the sessions are for my clients, not for me. I do not feel the need to celebrate Christmas within the sessions because for that hour, my thoughts of Christmas really are not important.

But does that mean we totally avoid the subject of Christmas? No, of course not. We go with what my client wants to go with. If they love Christmas and want to talk about their plans, great! I am genuinely pleased to hear them. If my client really dislikes Christmas, we will talk about their experiences, give them a chance to reflect and process which may help to make Christmas a little easier to cope with, that is what we will do.

So now we are coming to the end of my blog, I have the feeling that I want to wrap this blog up in a positive way and not leave it on a downer. But I guess life can't always be nicely wrapped up with a nice bow, looking neat and pretty. Life can messy. Life can feel harsh at times. Christmas can feel harsh at times. And you know what, I can't fix it. I would love to fix it - I would love to wave a magic wand and make everyone's lives less difficult.

So how should I end this blog? Do I have any wisdom to pass on to you all? For those of you who are finding it hard, it might be helpful to focus on what is in your control and what is out of your control. Try and let go of what you can't control. But more important is that you are kind to yourself. Try and develop some empathy for yourself as you would others. Go easy on yourself. Try and find small things just for yourself that give you some comfort. It may be a long bath. It may be a long walk. Maybe looking at old photos that you love and wearing your favourite jumper or pyjamas.

But please, try and validate your own feelings. Recognise that this is a hard time for you and spend some time putting yourself first, do what works for you and try not to put too much importance on others expectations.

For those of you who are managing, go easy on those around you. Recognise that others may have difficulties that you may not be aware of. What is on the surface is not always what the reality is. Christmas is a time for giving - make your gift to others, the gift of validation and empathy. That is far more important than material gifts.

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