Sunday, 6 March 2011

An Existential Start to Spring

I don’t intend to start each blog with a comment about the weather, but I definitely think that Spring is arriving with the speed of a passing freight train. Yesterday as the morning grew light I watched a small group of Canada geese fly over head. Later on while walking Cello around High Rid Reservoir, there they all were, serenely bobbing on the water. It was a magnificent sight.

I would have taken a photo of them myself, but my new phone (with its wonderful built in camera) had a completely dead battery even after being turned off all night. What I didn’t realize (until after getting the phone) were the problems people are having with the battery life. 7-8 hours of use between charges appeared to be the norm. Product research is great, but possibly best done before a purchase is made.

In fact it’s not been a great week in terms of shopping at all. This week I wanted to re-read one of my favorite books. But having looked on every book shelf I have, and failing to find the book, I had to send off to Amazon for a new copy, which they delivered the very next day (what a great service). Frustratingly, later on that day, as I was sitting talking to someone in my office, I saw the original copy on the book shelf. I will find a good home for the spare copy.

The book, Love’s Executioner and other tales of psychotherapy, was written by Irvin Yalom. Yalom has been described as someone who writes like an angel about the devils that besiege us. The book tells the stories of Yaloms therapeutic encounters with 10 of his clients. These are stories of real people whose problems include a man with terminal cancer but obsessed with sex, a woman who grieves the death of her father, who over eats to escape her fear of death, a man who could not bring himself to open three letters, because of a fear as to what they might say, and a married women whose story (provides the book’s title), tells how for eight years she was trapped by re-living 27 days of an illicit love affair over and over again in her mind. Through therapy, Yalom becomes the executioner of this obsessive love.

Yalom is an Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University, and practices existentialist psychotherapy. The existential psychotherapist is generally not concerned with a person’s past; instead, the emphasis is on the choices to be made in the present and future. Whilst the therapist and client may reflect upon how the client has answered life's questions in the past, attention ultimately moves to searching for a new and increased awareness in the present and enabling a new freedom and responsibility to act. The client can then accept they are not special, and that their existence is simply coincidental, without destiny or fate.

However, our existence isn’t without pain, and that such pain is the basic anxiety we all feel and use to cope with the four givens of existence. These ‘givens’ are: the inevitability of death for each of us and for those we love; the freedom to make our lives as we will; our ultimate aloneness; and, finally, the absence of any obvious meaning or sense to life.

Yalom believes that a therapist helps to deal with this pain ‘not by sifting through the past but by being lovingly present with that person; by being trustworthy, interested; and by believing that together their joint activity will ultimately be redemptive and healing’.

This thought seemed to me to be entirely appropriate to what it is we are trying to do in the School. With Spring around the corner and the next group of students on the point of joining us, finding ways of enabling these nurses of the future to remember that it is the being rather than the doing of nursing that is important is the challenge we must all address.