Counselling – The power of Words.
An interesting feature of the pandemic has been the recurrent use in the media of certain key words. Amongst these has been the frequent references to the current situation being seen as ‘unprecedented’.
This word has been worked hard by commentators for a good reason. ‘Unprecedented’ helps us to recognise the remarkable situation that we are all living through. It provides some reassurance that we are not alone in have a sense of unease about the implications of this new illness.
In our society words can be powerful whether expressed in print, via social media or through conversation. Words can help us to gain an insight into the personal worlds of those around us including friends, family and work colleagues. Perhaps even more importantly words can also help us to develope an understanding of our own way of being. That in turn can enable us to think about the possibility of change.
Within therapy we recognise words as a powerful tool to work with. A starting point to using this tool is to acknowledge that we all talk to ourselves in some way. The approach to that self-talk may differ for each of us. It may be inward and silent through to muttering or speaking out loud. Irrespective of the form a personal narrative is voiced. What can be helpful in the counselling room is to explore the style of that personal narrative which we each use.
What is our tone of voice whether the words are either spoken out loud or just played through inside our minds? Are we habitually self-critical? Do we belittle ourselves and underplay achievements or do we exaggerate our accomplishments. Do we minimise the difficulties we are facing or do we catastrophize about the awkward challenges which may lay ahead.
It can be particularly helpful to try to take a step back and consider those key words which form a frequent part of our internal vocabulary. Therapists within the CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) school are likely to suggest that these frequently repeated words will impact on how we feel. For example if we continue to use critical terminology about ourselves and our achievements it may not be surprising if eventually we start to regard those negative thoughts about our capabilities as facts.
Sometimes repetitive internal dialogue can become so frequent as to become automatic. That is when the power of those internal words can start to become unhelpful and damaging. We may begin to act in the way that we have been thinking and that can lead us into difficult emotional places.
There is however an upside to this powerful force of wordplay. If we can exercise greater control over that internal narrative we may be able to hear a more constructive, tolerant and helpful internal voice. That can help us to form a more realistic and optimistic picture of what is happening in our lives which will in turn feed through in a positive way to how we act and how we feel.
This approach to our way of being has a logical basis and fits with a CBT based counselling framework or solution focussed therapy. Sometimes however this focus on our thoughts may not be sufficient to bring about change. If for example our critical internal voice is too loud it may drown out rational thought. The CBT approach may struggle to be effective against a maelstrom of discordant emotion. The angry tone and the cutting words may be so aggressive as to swamp that attempt to find a more measured and constructive approach.
It is on those occasions that it may be useful to work with other counselling strategies. This can include looking a little deeper as to why that critical narrative has taken such an unpleasant hold of our internal world. What is the cause? Where does this criticality come from? How can we weaken its hold over us. Using other approaches we will as therapists still work with clients within the counselling room by employing words but we will do so in a more open and less structured way.
I started this note by referring to an interesting feature of the pandemic. On reflection the word ‘interesting’ could be seen as potentially out of place. It is certainly not intended to disguise or diminish the distressing and disturbing impact of this virus.
Coronavirus has brought about the premature loss of loved ones whether in care homes or hospitals. Livelihoods have been lost and all manner of social or personal activity disrupted. Whether considering activities such as house buying in Chester, eating out in Chesterfield or counselling in Chichester, the distressing impact of Covid 19 has been felt countrywide.
Apart from acting responsibly and observing the usual protocols there may be little we can personally do to remedy this. Yet on an individual basis we exercise a little more control over those particularly disturbing challenges to our inner world particularly at this difficult Covid time by simply focusing on how we are talking to ourselves. A good starting point is to listen out for any words and phrases which we seem to keep repeating to ourselves. We can then decide whether these comments are helpful to us or nor.
If on reflection these words are useful then stay with them. If however some words may be a little too critical with strong negative undertones then perhaps it is now time to begin to write a new script. You listen to yourself! Your self-talk is important. Your words do matter.
And if on a particularly challenging day you should subsequently decide that some external support could be useful with regard to completing this more constructive rewrite then I am sure that there will be a counsellor or a therapist near you who will be glad to offer that assistance!