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‘How so?’

‘You look big, strong, and reliable. But the problem with oak trees is that if the storm is big enough their very strength becomes their weakness and they end up blowing over. What we can do is work on making you more like a willow tree. No matter how hard the wind blows, a willow simply bends and flexes and when the storm passes it’s still standing.’

‘Right. Okay.’  ‘You’ve been through a big storm, haven’t you? Things have been tough.’

He said this last sentence with such compassion that it took me by surprise and I found myself crying.

Three months earlier Louise and I had been celebrating finding out that she was pregnant with our first child. A month earlier I had been sitting in the recovery room holding her hand following an operation due to an ectopic pregnancy and we’d been told that due to the endometriosis, it was unlikely that we’d be able to have children. A week ago I had started to shake, then I found I couldn’t breathe and we’d had to call out an ambulance because I was convinced I was dying. I was only 24.

During my breakdown, I was out of control.

My breakdown was profoundly frightening. I was out of control and at war with my own mind which seemed hell-bent on destroying me. I had rolling, unrelenting anxiety attack after anxiety attack. I became profoundly dissociated and felt reality slowly slipping away, the more I tried to hold on to it the more it seemed to elude me. I felt overwhelmed, petrified, and ashamed of my weakness.

At the time my family didn’t know what to do. My wife lost in her own grief, did her best to hold me and heal me but we were both shipwrecked on different rafts drifting further and further apart. Then I met Albert. He wasn’t a well man. He was suffering from heart failure, smoked too much, drank too much whiskey, and couldn’t walk more than the hundred yards down to the local off-licence. Despite all of that he was an almost miraculously good psychotherapist.

The three P’s in Transactional Analysis

In Transactional Analysis, we talk about the Three P’s required for therapy to be effective—Potency, Protection and Permission. During the five months we worked together he displayed all of those qualities in abundance. Despite his ill health, he held the space for my treatment with such strength and compassion that I knew I was always safe when I was with him.

He quietly exuded an aura of calm control that regulated me almost instantly whenever I was in his presence. He became the container for our work, however painful or fear-inducing it was I knew he would be able to hold it and keep me safe. He also allowed me to grieve. He gave me the permission to fall apart and to rebuild myself. Albert held the almost constant processes I was experiencing of rupture and repair and slowly enabled me to glue back the pieces of my shattered life until I felt like some kind of master craftsman in the art of kintsugi of the soul.

We can heal from psychological torment.

He was the person who showed me that we can heal psychological torment. He was the person who gave me a toolkit of self-care and self-awareness that I still rely on almost every day even thirty years later. He taught me the power of self-knowledge and the strength of my own vulnerability. Louise and I did go on to have a child. She’s now 27. But sadly, Louise died when Caitlin was just four. Once again I was shattered but thanks to Albert I was able to be compassionate to myself, to work through the grief without it breaking me, and to find moments of grace amongst the waves of pain and this allowed me to be there for my daughter.

Life doesn’t always have happy endings. Pain and uncertainty are fellow travellers through life who are never far away. What Albert helped me discover though was that they’re not to be feared but to be accepted and sometimes even welcomed. He taught me that I could steep off the constant merry-go-round of the fear of fear and that I could, with the right help, become more like a willow than an oak and for that I’ll be forever grateful.

A beautifully honest blog written by Tim Arthur, a therapist in training and placement with UKCN.

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