One of my favourite places to walk on the Wirral is Royden Park. In addition to the heathland and trees, there’s a hidden gem tucked away not far from the main car park; the walled garden. I’ve been going in there every week since the end of last summer, watching the cycle of the seasons.
This week, the laburnum archway is coming into bloom. Unfortunately, it hadn’t occurred to me to take photographs of the archway through the other seasons (probably as during the winter it felt too cold to take my gloves off!) However, today, on a beautiful spring morning, I wandered around taking a few pictures. As I did so, it occurred to me what a great metaphor the plants in the garden are for the process of change in therapy.
Many people enter therapy during an autumn season of their lives. Often we cling desperately to old ways of thinking and outdated ways of living in the world, experiencing symptoms such as feeling low and hopeless, empty and worthless, guilty or anxious. We may have to get to a really low point before we take action and reach out for help; just as the leaves fall from the trees, we feel as though we’re falling apart. Yet just as the tree shedding its leaves is a natural process – part of the cycle of growth and renewal – so too the symptoms many people battle against are an indication that something needs to be released in order to make way for the new.
If we accept what is happening to us and allow the leaves to fall from the tree, we can move towards the painful feelings, sit with the difficulties and work with them. It’s at this point, that winter comes. Together, we go into the dark, cold places of our psyches and do the work of therapy. We hold a mirror up to ourselves, perhaps making connections with past events which, unknowingly, have shaped our ways of thinking. Like the branches on the tree, we lay ourselves bare, as we recognise patterns of behaviour we’d rather not see. We begin to notice thoughts and responses which have become unhelpful. We challenge our beliefs and values, re-assessing our actions and our feelings.
Just as in winter it might look as though nothing much is happening, so too there can be times when it feels that way during therapy. These days we’re increasingly primed to have our needs met instantly – three clicks and you’ve ordered the latest book from Amazon. Yet just as plants have their own natural life cycle to work through, so too does the process of therapy. In the winter of therapy, we are doing the work which leads to spring, to growth and the beginnings of new life.
Passing under the archway week after winter week, it did indeed look as though nothing much was happening, until one spring morning, a few small, delicate buds started to appear. Susceptible to the frost, at first the new growth seemed to be tentative and not yet hardy enough to survive. In a similar way, the beginnings of change during therapy are delicate and vulnerable; as the new emerges, we’re liable to slip back into old ways of being at times of stress until the new growth is well established. I watched this happening with the laburnum plant as it began sprouting a few seemingly random buds across the archway. Some curled up and withered away, others began to flourish. As the growth gathered momentum, there was a strengthening and eventually a blanket of interwoven connections spread over the archway. It’s at this point during therapy where the changes take hold and are less likely to fall by the way side.
Just as the laburnum plant has worked through its cycle and come into bloom, when we look at our experience and shed outdated ways of being, we make space for the new to grow. We are then ready to move into summer, where we are once again blossoming, feeling resilient and robust, able to bend with the wind and thrive in the world.