Monthly Archives: July 2013

The personality of door locks: unlocking defences

The shed on my allotment has a very basic lock, with an enormous chunky key. It could hardly be simpler, but still there is a knack to getting it to work – a slight jiggle, twist to the left before right. It has its own personality, I think.Untitled artwork But so too does the gate to the whole allotment plot, and that is a serious piece of work . Chunky, tough,resilient – but it still needs that little extra bit of coaxing. Come to think of it, my front door, the office, the side gate  – all need their own special handling. After a while these small idiosyncratic adjustments come automatically; it’s only when someone new tries to open the lock and finds it difficult that I remember there is a knack. Otherwise it is just another of those habitual fine tunings that go unnoticed.

What I do notice is the struggles I sometimes have with unfamiliar door locks, and how exasperating it can be when the owner arrives and merely puts in the key and turns it! Once I was left the key to water a friend’s plants whilst they were away and couldn’t get the door to open, with obvious and embarrassing consequences. The following year, after several lessons in door opening technique I was entrusted with a new set of plants. This time I managed to get in but somehow in the process set off the alarms which then refused to stop! Now she asks her neighbour to water the plants.

Locks, of course, are a form of defence against the intruder, which like locks themselves come in all shapes and sizes. We lock ourselves and others into certain positions to defend against aggression, fear, intimacy, and the Other.   I’ve never found lists of ‘defence mechanisms’ very useful; the transactional analysis language of  rackets seems to me livelier and more interactive and although we might not use the word, group therapy members are pretty good at spotting each other’s rackets.

What happens in these groups goes something like this: gradually as the members interact, they begin to work out what it is they are each doing to block communication and preserve their own versions of themselves, others, life and the universe. They arrive in the group locked up, and the group process may in time begin to unlock them, one lever or pin at a time.  There is a great variety of locks with a host of security features, but as far as I can see, there are ways of ‘picking’ the majority. What is needed is patience and skill. The group learns the skills, and as long as they are patient and keep returning, eventually something will click. My experience with actual locks and keys underlines their idiosyncrasy. Recognising that everyone has their own unique take on whatever ‘defences’ they employ is part of the skill of the group. We protect ourselves with similar processes that have been specifically adapted for our own unique context and experiences. I think that we are much more liable to engage with any ‘unlocking’ process if this particularity and uniqueness is recognised.


Words, pictures, therapy.

Words. Dense little packages that unwrap themselves, setting off spirals of reflections and sensations. Literary taste bombs bursting in the mind.

This last week they have been coming at me, not just from my work, but from the art world as well. It is Warwickshire Open studios fortnight, when I meander around various artist’s houses and studios, exploring what I like and what I don’t, and generally admiring the outpouring of creativity.

Last year I was very impressed by Jo Roberts, and went back to see what she’s been working on. This is where I met the words, embossed with a characteristic border and a sentence or two attached;  an on-going project where Jo and author David Southwell exchange a word a day online  and share their response.  More information can be found on Jo’s blog .

OOZE.  Think about it. Menacing? Friendly? What does it set off for you?20130705_130224


One of the great things about Jo is that she always sparks some response in me. I want to go home and draw! So this is my ‘ooze’. ( Thinking of French holidays, clearly!)20130709_131516

In the other part of my life, online therapy is becoming increasingly important and I’ve been reflecting upon how significant the choice of word is when counselling via email or synchronous chat. I know at the recent BACP online conference, Jeannie Wrights’ workshop explored some of these areas.

A written word sits and stares . It perseveres through time, always available to confirm or challenge our perceptions.  It can reassure us or it can confirm our worst suspicions.  We can take it to heart, squirrel it away, get it out and look at it, burn the paper it’s printed on, embroider it into the way we see the world. It perseveres for good or ill, whether a subsequent email  tries to modify it or not.

Psychotherapy has always been concerned with the conversation between live bodies in a shared space. At their best, words can convey the deepest emotions and bring us into relationship with others; they can also be bodged and fumbled attempts at communication. But the live presence enables an instantaneous feedback and mutual monitoring that facilitates negotiation.” That’s not the word I would choose.”  “Perhaps you could suggest a better one?”  In group therapy, there may be multiple choices – ‘this is how I see it’ – ‘yes, I like that phrase’ – ‘oh no, it’s too blunt’, – and so forth. Some words become shorthand for a whole series of group explorations. Side board is a memorable one. ‘This is on the sideboard’ came to mean that ‘what I am about to say doesn’t not directly follow on from anything that’s been said before, but it’s come into my head and we’ve agreed as a group that those things are important so I am going to share it with you’.

We can only communicate at depth when the meanings of the words are shared and negotiated. If my version of ‘spirit’ is not the same as yours, we need to use more words to try to clarify what I am trying to share with you. Or perhaps we need a picture?