Sunday, April 22, 2012

The importance of labelling

Labels are often decried as being destructive, and indeed often they are. People rightly see labels as ways of boxing other people into fixed roles which limit their ability to be all they can be and give all that they have to give. A child labelled "the troublemaker" or the "class crown" or "the responsible one", a work colleague labelled "a shirker", an  old man labelled as 'dirty", an ethnic minority labelled as "stingy" or "criminal" or "subversive" - these labels are ways of discounting the other, and often of holding them to the worst or least appropriate of their behaviours. They have been rightly challenged, as has been the need to assign (and reduce) people labels in the first place.

But like everything, labels also have a positive side. labels sometimes allow pople to articulate to themselves their usefulness, their value, and as such become the platforms from which people can operate more effectively in the world. They can also put other people at ease so that they have enough of an initial "take' on you for an ineraction to begin with some (admittedly arbitrary) orientation points they have in terms of their framing of you:: "Hello, I'm an...a accountant / farmer/ revolutionary / poet / in sales / fitter and turner / mechanic/ lawyer/ publisher/ social worker/ full time mom etc."

I often what label to asign myself when presenting myself to people, what label I can produce that adds value and dignity to myself, gives a comfortable sense of solidity and area of expertise. I have variously across the years presented myself (in person, or perhaps on a busines card or CV)as a student, soldier, journalist, writer, poet. scriptwriter, lecturer, teacher, film maker, wannabe filmmaker, corporate worker when I was at Liberty Life, blogger, instructional designer (for elearning) online content creator, dad, husband, cousin of, bar mitzvah teacher, Hebrew teacher, Jewish studies teacher/ children's author etc - depening on the time and context. Some of these labels ring more sexily in my ears than others, are seen as bestowing me with more dignity and value than others, as having the capacity to help create an intial orientation on the side of my interlocutor of interest or "respect."Now as I decide what ticket to present to the world next I cast around for convincing and solid labels; poet and psychotherapist; counsellor and poet; counsellor and communicator bla bla bla. Eventually I will come to something that feels reasonably solid, that reflects some of what I am and do, which i can occupy for a good few years, and which enhances my usefulness and value both in my own eyes and in the eyes of others.

It seems to me - and this is really the point of this post and the rest a long preamble - that a really useful thing that a therapist can do with clients is help them find affirming labels for themselves, even when at first this seems like a very big challenge. Not with a high functioning client who is a CEO or CFO or who has a distinct professional identity (dentist, tax consultant, architect) or commercial identity (real estate agent, commodities broker), or a "tradie" as they call them in Australia (plumber, electrician, builder) but with someone who may be unemployed, unemployable, between jobs, wrestling with an addiction, awaiting trial or post incaceration, a survivor of some kind of abuse - they too have their story and they too could benefit from a calling card. What could the card of a homeless schizophrenic be? If she sometimes manages to walk dogs, or do a bit of gardening, she could be a "household assisstant" or "botannical worker" or, if she just walks around the streets a "neighnbourhood patroller." "Survivor of domestic abuse" or perhaps just "Survivor" Street poet? Cleaner? "Evoket of compassion." "addiction expert" - the call is to get creative and find something that fits for the client and facilitates new movement. That allows them to present themselves to themselves (and then to the world) in a new way.

Obvioulsy phony and politically correct labers which try to avoid substantial work JUST with a new label are not going to do the trick. we are talking here of providing labels which are a starting point towards wellness, which help provide people with a few cms of psychic turf onwhich to stand as they try to figure out how to be usefully in the world.  

The therapist as parent...yes, but also sometimes the therapist as witness, modelling for the client how it is to be with what arises, without acting out or suppressing, just gently meeting, being with, seeing - "the seeing is the doing" (Krishnamurti)

Psychotherapy is like poetry; there are more people teaching and offering it than those who want to consume it says in the Talmud "more than the calf wants to suck the cow wants to suckle"

To Gerday Boyesen:

my peristaltic rythms testify 
I am ripe
so let me be harvested

At the borders of the body-mind entity
somatic psychotherapy


The best "therapy" (and what a loaded term that is)
happens between a good enough mother *
and her infant
in the first year
of embodied life
get that kind
and every other you receive
will just be a refresher course

* (or father or caregiver)

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