At the start of my summer therapy break I bought this wonderful box set of six children’s animal stories by Jill Tomlinson, with the intention of reading one a week during the break. I was introduced to them by one of my children who brought home from school ‘The owl who was afraid of the dark’. He didn’t seem that interested in it, but I loved it; and I saw in its chapters and in the progression of the story, similarities between the little owl’s journey from fear to confidence, to the stages of the therapeutic journey. Since then, I have wanted to read the other books in the collection, hoping that they too might contain some important and thought provoking lessons, just as crucial for grown-ups to learn as for children, but presented in a beautifully simple and moving way.
This week, I’m reading ‘The penguin who wanted to find out’, and the section above really struck me. It reminded me not just of the lessons I’m supposed to be learning over the therapy break (about keeping my therapist real and staying connected); but of the fact that eventually, the goal is to ‘internalise’ my therapist, and the process, in such a way as to enable me to fly the nest (though that is not quite the right metaphor when we’re talking about penguins!).
Claudius is a ‘daddy penguin’ looking after Otto, a little penguin. Claudius has just told Otto that he will need to leave him in order to go and look for food, as he has had nothing to eat all winter. How many of us, when our therapists ‘leave us’ to go and find their own nourishment of ‘down time’ and a rest, share, on some level, Otto’s horrified reaction? How many of us think, even if we don’t say, the words ‘you wouldn’t leave me….I need you’? And then, when we receive the response, as Otto did, that we carry our therapist with us, inside, how many of us can empathise deeply with Otto’s heartfelt protest that he wants his dad to be outside where he can see him? ‘Oh don’t leave me’ – for me, at least, that is a familiar internal refrain.
And yet, as Claudius says, ‘that’s the important place to have a good dad [or mum, one might say] – inside’. I can’t always see my therapist, much as I would like to. Therapy breaks are good examples of that, and hard as they are they are also necessary periods in which I can learn and practice internalising my therapist, and holding onto to her ‘inside’, even when I can’t see her ‘outside’. It’s vital for that process to take place; it is the process of therapy, in many ways, and it will also be the only way in which I can permanently hold onto her and to everything she means to me and has shown me.
‘Poor Otto was shattered’. But at the same time he became interested in the journey he was taking towards the sea, and forgot a little bit, about his misery. Therapy breaks are still hard, and much more so on some days than others. But I have become more ‘practised’ at them; and I am trying to notice things about them, and about me and my reactions, that make the journey more interesting, rather than being only a trial to be endured.
How does it turn out for Otto? I haven’t reached the end yet, so I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to finding out. Just as I am looking forward to finding out what happens to me, and what I have learned, when I see my therapist again, ‘on the outside’, in September.