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Counselling, Scrooge and a Christmas Carol

The notion of archetypes was a concept brought forward by one of the founding fathers of psychotherapy, Carl Gustav Jung.  A seasonal example is provided by the character of Scrooge in one of Charles Dickens’s best loved works, a Christmas Carol.

The name Scrooge conjures up images of the miser. A morose old man is pictured hunched alone in a bare darkened room with only money for company.  This is cash which is hoarded and not spent. There is a sense of gloom and depression. We see a pessimist and of a grumpy cynic who will forever regard Christmas, laughter and a festive season as just ‘bah humbug’.

Yet a challenge with archetypes is that the idea can prompt lazy thinking. We allow a picture to form without questioning the content. We embrace the feelings which are generated by reference to the archetype without considering the validity of those emotions.   The reaction we feel towards Scrooge as an individual is a good example of the deterministic thinking provoked by this caricature.

Yet perhaps Scrooge is worthy of another look. I recently reread Christmas Carol and realised that there was another side to what is at first sight a rather unpleasant character. Of course Scrooge plays the part of the grouchy old man particularly in the opening pages. His ability to spread gloom in the midst of joy is well covered by Dickens as is Scrooge’s love of money for what it is rather than what it can be.  But if we take the trouble to look in detail at what Dickens is offering us, there are also remarkable depths to the personality of Scrooge which are overlooked.

The first is his bravery in confronting and then engaging with these spirits.  The first indication that something scary is afoot comes when Scrooge returns home and is about to enter his property. Yet he still enters. Scrooge is alone when these spectres appear. After the first visitation he guesses what is to follow. Yet rather than hiding or fleeing Scrooge remains. He is able to acknowledge, listen to and then embrace these spectral beings. Scrooge acknowledges his fear but he has the courage to sit with his forebodings and listen. There is a bravery in this old man’s willingness to face up to the messages brought by these scary phantoms from beyond the grave. He does not run but instead in CBT parlance he shows that he is willing to face the fear.

Scrooge also shows great strength in his readiness to acknowledge the need to change both his ways of thinking and also his actions. This includes relational changes with those around him as well as a willingness to let go of that which he previously held dear.  These aspects of the character do not negate the existence of the earlier Scrooge but suggest that he is a man of substance and not just a haunted misanthrope. Dickens creates a character who despite substantive flaws shows that change is possible even for the die-hard ill-tempered and irritable grump!

And what about a Christmas message? Well having reread this classic I take two messages from this fun tale.  The first is that counselling mantra that change is possible even for those who hold deeply held views. We are capable of transforming our thinking, our actions and our way of being even if we may occasionally need some help to start that process. The second message is that those ghosts and phantoms that may whisper in our ear from time to time be far more helpful than we realise if only we can find the courage to sit and listen to them – just like Scrooge!

Have a great Christmas!