Is Therapy Selfish? – Day four: What happens when someone isn’t healthily selfish enough?

Jane* had been married for 18 years, and came to therapy with marital difficulties. She had always tried to please her husband, but recently he had become frustrated and withdrawn. The more she tried, the more selfish Jane felt he became. Jane had become silently resentful of her husband and had also developed stomach pains and indigestion. When her therapist gently commented that there didn’t seem to be “enough of her” in her life, she felt criticised and rejected. She enjoyed looking after others, she said. Surely this was a good thing? Gradually, in therapy, Jane realised that her role as a ‘pleaser’ gave her an identity, but made her self-worth dependent on another’s appreciation. Behind the role of helper she didn’t know who she was; she had become an empty shell.

Change came as Jane began to acknowledge her own feelings, needs and desires, and to believe she could exist in her own right. She started to take charge of her life, taking pressure off her husband and their marriage. The tension that was causing her indigestion also eased, because her unspoken, repressed resentment had been faced, understood and let go. Jane moved from unhealthy selflessness, to healthy selfishness.

Tomorrow we’ll wrap up our series looking at whether therapy can make us selfish. Let us know what you think by leaving a reply (above) or tweeting @WendyBramham

Author: Wendy Bramham

Editor: Briony Martin

April 2015

* “Jane” is a fictional conglomerate of many clients

Depression (blog 1) – the ‘D word’ by Lindie White

Many of our clients at Wendy Bramham Therapy come to us because they are suffering depressive symptoms. Launching our new blog, psychotherapist, Lindie White, begins a series looking at different aspects of depression and how therapy can help.

Gwyneth Lewis calls her book about her own experience of depression Sunbathing in the Rain. What a wonderful image – the suggestion of basking in warmth and light, even in the rain, indicates that the sunbather has found a place of relative equanimity within. As a foreword she writes: “To anybody who suffers from depression: DO NOT BE DISCOURAGED.”

The root meaning of the word courage is ‘heart’. So take heart! One in five people suffer from depression in the UK and it is one of the most common presenting problems brought to counselling and psychotherapy. But despite its prevalence it still carries a stigma. One of my own clients referred to it as ‘The D word’.

Depression is rather a blanket term. Depressive states range widely from a constant sense of dissatisfaction and persistent low mood, to a suicidal state of mind sometimes tragically ending in the taking of life. Although there are clearly identifiable features, the experience is profoundly individual. The following are some personal experiences of depression:

Gwyneth Lewis “felt ashamed of my wretchedness, as if I’d brought it on myself”. In Darkness Visible, William Styron describes waking in the early hours to a “yawning darkness, wondering and writhing at the devastation taking place in my mind, (the pain) like that of a broken limb”. Richard Mabey, in Nature Cure, writes: “I couldn’t bring myself to do anything. I stayed in bed most of the day, quaking with anxiety about the anxiety I was trapped in.” And in one of my own bouts of depression I wrote:
“All life is held
in the vice-like grip of frost.
A smile is a flower picked and given by other people.
It would crack my face,
if I dared.”

So why do we get depressed? Maybe it’s work, relationships, grief or illness. Maybe it’s fear of living or dying, or just the thwarting of our hopes and dreams. Whatever it is, when we’re depressed we’re under a cloud and the only voices we can hear are our negative thoughts and painful feelings.

What can we do about it? In therapy we start by deeply and attentively listening to the depressed person, making the depression our guide to what the person really wants or needs. There are no quick fixes, but listening to someone, as they are, is powerful and does its own work. As Gwyneth Lewis writes: “In my experience, depression can be a great friend. It says: the way you’ve been living is unbearable, it’s not for you. And it teaches you slowly how to live in a way that suits you infinitely better.”

We’ll be blogging about depression – its causes and treatments – over the next few months. Meanwhile check out for more information about helping yourself or someone you know through depression, or tweet us with your own experiences @WendyBramham

Next month, Lindie writes more about the causes of and approaches to depression. Lindie White is a Kew-based psychodynamic psychotherapist. She has worked privately for 15 years and for 12 years in an NHS drop-in surgery for the homeless.

See also: Gwyneth Lewis, Sunbathing in the Rain, Flamingo, 2006; William Styron, Darkness Visible, Random House, 2001; Richard Mabey, Nature Cure, Chatto & Windus, 2008.