The Ghosted and the Ghosters

Ghosting - ever heard of it? Ever experienced it? It can be extremely painful...

I've recently been introduced to the phenomenon of ghosting, which is the experience of a someone disappearing from a relationship, and is common to internet dating. Both men and women report that they may have built up a promising start to a relationship through messages and/or phone calls but that then the person disappears without trace. They appear to simply vanish whilst the other person is left confused and feeling less than good about themselves as they try to work out what went wrong. Ghosters might even disappear after actual dates and can occur after both successful and unsuccessful relationships. One can understand why someone might be a bit cowardly about admitting that they didn't have such a great date and want to silently retreat instead of having to admit that they didn't really enjoy their date. Alarmingly, however, some ghosters disappear after several successful dates. I personally know one ghoster who disappeared after dating a woman for 18 months (I have permission to report this). After meeting his children and spending two Christmases with his family, she was at a loss to understand how someone who became so close could simply disappear without a word. Needless to say, ghosting can be perceived as a form of rejection or abandonment, so might be especially difficult for a person with those particular issues to deal with.

But what about the ghoster? This can't be an easy thing to do to someone, especially when they have loved or had strong feelings for the person too. It can just as easily be born of rejection/abandonment issues for them too if they fear that someone is getting too close, and when that means that they fear being left. So, such a person may sabotage the relationship in order to avoid being left first. Often, people in these positions say things like, "I'm no good at relationships", or even refuse to acknowledge that they are in a relationship. For these people, being in a relationship is equated with pain through loss from rejection and abandonment. So, by denying the relationship exists, or leaving it when things become too close/serious, they can avoid all associated emotional pain. Usually this is achieved by getting into a brand new relationship in which they can anaesthetise themselves from the pain with a big dose of dopamine from the heady new romance. At the end of the day, though, they live with the ongoing emotional emptiness of not being able to be in a close, mutually loving relationship as they are too afraid to commit. Often associated with people with ambivalent/avoidant attachment issues, e.g., those who were neglected/abused as children or adopted persons, therapy can be a highly beneficial experience. Relational therapy, especially, can be a route to understanding how to trust that a serious long-term relationship might risk emotional pain if it ends, but without taking that risk, one might never know the incredible joy of mutual, long-term love and companionship.

Collaborative Therapy

My work often involves various family members, woking in a collaborative way, to explore an issue or a collection of problems that are best addressed by a couple or a family group together. I work with a variety of individuals in this way, e.g., children and young people with one or more of their parents or guardians; the children (including adult children) of one family without their parents; one adult and one of their parents, i.e., mother and son/daughter or father and son/daughter; an adult and their sibling (brother or sister). 

It might be that the couple or family are entering into the counselling together to focus on a joint problem such as with couples counselling or family therapy where each individual attends therapy seeing that they are one piece of the puzzle. Sometimes, one person is seen as having the main problem that affects the group dynamic. This may or may not be apparent at the start. The couple or group may start therapy without any clear idea of what the problem is before it emerges than one person's issue is affecting the other(s). Conversely, one or more family members are there from the start to support an individual with a problem and this is a common scenario when there is problematic behaviour around alcohol, drugs and food. 

There does not seem to be a pattern of who makes the initial enquiry for therapy in any of these situations, vis a vis whether it's the person perceived to have the problem or not. But, it is always the person who is actively seeking support for themselves or a loved one who gets in contact with me. For example, I have enquiries from: men who have a problem relationship with their father and would like a collaborative type of counselling; mothers who have become estranged from their children and are seeking support to deal with their grief and need their partner's involvement in order to understand what they're going through; fathers who are estranged from their adult child and are attempting to initiate a reunion through therapy; people who have a family member in crisis with substance abuse or an eating disorder and are looking for therapy where they can be involved and supportive; fathers concerned about their children's welfare post-divorce who, perhaps, have been split between mum and dad and are seeking a safe, confidential environment for their children to explore their thoughts and feelings and learn how to support each other. The permutations are endless, really, and are as varied as families are.

I try to be as flexible in my approach to working with couples and families as possible. Often the sheer logistics of gathering family members together is difficult and numbers of 3 or more usually find it easier to get together at the weekends. Families don't want to spend every weekend in therapy, though, and there is also the financial consideration. So, I will usually see families fortnightly or monthly. Couples usually want counselling every week and I will always see couples separately as well as together both to start with and sometimes later when individual issues are blocking the conjoint process. In the case of families where one person's problem is affecting everyone else, especially in the case of an alcohol problem, that individual will usually have the bulk of the 1-2-1 sessions but the therapy will involve family sessions too in order to do the work of ongoing support in recovery so that they have the best possible chance of success.

After an initial enquiry, I will meet everyone together for an appointment of 90 minutes where each person will have the opportunity to talk about how they see the problem and what they would like to gain from therapy. I facilitate these sessions so that everyone has a chance to speak and be heard. Once everyone has offered their perspective - and not each person may be able to do this for various reasons (fear, shyness, etc.) - then we can work out a way forward together and decide on how to proceed.  Helping to facilitate communication difficulties is my main role in couples and family therapy. This can be very challenging for those who are not used to having open and honest communication about their feelings and needs. However, the process of becoming more aware of each person's thoughts/feelings and needs/wants - and their ability to communicate these or not - always brings about some kind of change.

I offer weekend retreats for intensive therapy in the UK and in Brittany. Getting away from our normal environments can really help the therapeutic process, especially when this involves connecting with nature. As a walk and talk therapist, gentle or more challenging walking, and being out in the fresh air often aids psychotherapeutic growth and change. I also work in partnership with my daughter, Lola, who is a personal trainer and nutrition coach for couples who are interested in combining therapy with fitness and nutrition. Additionally, Lola offers couples fitness training conjointly with her partner, Danny, who is also a personal trainer. This offers another dimension that some couples really enjoy. Furthermore, Lola and I offer a unique approach to couples art therapy whereby life drawing tuition has the potential to promote connection and intimacy of a truly creative and profound nature. 

If you are reading this and are wondering how therapy might help you and your partner or other family member please get in touch now by completing this enquiry form.

Counselling for Relationship Problems

In my experience, almost all counselling involves some kind of work on relationship issues. No matter what a client's presenting issues are in the initial sessions - in some way the issues will be related to how they affect the person's relationships. 

A relational style of counselling helps because it constitutes the basic requirements of a healthy relationship. It recognises the need to make some psychological connection, for people to just be themselves, to accept others for who they are, and to dialogue in an open, honest and authentic way. 

Therapy can be seen to be a microcosm of a client's world outside of the therapy room and the counsellor can help a client to learn about themselves in the therapeutic relationship, which will be helpful for their relationships outside of counselling. Honest, deep and meaningful relationships are often established in the therapeutic space, which clients learn how to transfer to other, more significant relationships.  

A transformational process can occur in relational therapy whereby the client finds themselves more able to identify and feel their feelings, to accept themselves for who they really are, to take responsibility for themselves and let others take responsibility for themselves, to identify their own needs and wants and how to communicate these to others, and to locate their own valuing process within themselves instead of relying on others. 

Relational work is often difficult as clients try and work out who they are and what they really think and feel, especially when they have spent a lifetime of acting a certain way in order to please others or fit with others' agendas.

Sometimes things get worse before they get better as clients go through the pain of a realisation that they have been living a lie and they struggle to claim their own identity. Clients might even have to let go of relationships when they know they are unhealthy, harmful or toxic for them.

This kind of work on relational issues is worth the struggle so that we can learn how to be oneself in authentic relationships - where we are able to communicate openly and honestly about our thoughts and feelings and about what we need and want from another person. Only then can we have happy, healthy connections with other human beings - and that is priceless.