“The relevant question in psychiatry shouldn’t be what’s wrong with you, but what happened to you.” – Eleanor Longden
In counselling we ask that very question.
People are shaped by their relationships, and by significant life experiences. So rather than just treating the symptoms or effects, or diagnosing someone with an inappropriate label, in counselling we ask questions like:
1. What significant event has just happened in their life? Are they reeling from a devastating trauma? Has their whole world just been turned upside down? Is this the kind of thing that any normal person would find disorienting and too much to handle? Do they have adequate support?
2. Related to this, how many other traumatic events has this individual had to deal with? If previous traumas haven’t been properly processed, then they won’t have the resources and reserves to cope with another devastating life event.
3. Have they suffered a significant loss? Are these normal reactions for someone who is grieving? How many other losses has this loss precipitated? How life-changing is this loss/ or are these losses? Has the person been allowed to grieve properly?
4. What was their early childhood like? What kinds of attachment relationships did they form with their parents, or their main caregivers? Were the attachments secure (safe, unconditional, loving, accepting, healthy, reliable and predictable)? Anxious-ambivalent (where love and acceptance were conditional, and they never knew for sure if the important people in their life would be there for them, or not)? Dismissive Avoidant (where they have to hide their true thoughts and feelings – so they became detached and emotionally distant)? Dismissive Avoidant (where they have buried and still carry unresolved losses and traumas, or mistreatments and abuses associated with their childhood)?
These all leave their mark on the individual’s mind. There is nothing wrong with them. All their reactions are quite normal. They are people who’ve been harmed, and who carry the deep scars of a shocking, painful past that still needs to be addressed.