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Auld acquaintances, and new

Thank God for that! 2020 is done at last.

I suspect just about everyone has asked or been asked ‘What have you missed this year?’ For me, it would probably be the old chestnut ‘spending time with friends’, but it might also be the opportunity to meet new people.

“When two people meet, each one is changed by the other so you’ve got two new people.”

This is one of the most famous lines from John Steinbeck’s final novel, ‘The winter of our discontent.’ I think it is as beautiful and profound as it is simple. I read it and it describes for me the opportunities for growth from new experiences and new connections with others. It is actually one of the fundamental principles and great privileges of being a counsellor.

I suspect most people would recognise it as a truism. In fact it may seem glib, like one of those memes with footprints or uplifting sunrises. But this really depends on the lens through which you experience life, and it’s always a mistake to assume other people see things the same way that we do. It was only recently that I realised that even a quote like this can for some carry a more unsettling connotation.

If your experience of life has left you with a distrust of the world and unwillingness to be vulnerable, then the idea that meeting someone new will change you may well be a source of real worry. If you feel that past encounters and relationships have changed you for the worse, it’s hardly surprising if you are at least wary of letting someone in. A new person isn’t necessarily a happier or better person. It might seem obvious that a person who feels like this needs to have positive experiences so they can change their outlook. But that’s easier said than done. I suspect no one will look at the Steinbeck quote and think ‘He’s got a point. What was I thinking?’ Change doesn’t happen because of wise or even kind words.

This is important with regard to counselling and therapy. I wonder how many of us struggle with our thoughts and feelings, yet hesitate to seek help as we are afraid of how the experience will alter us. We may actually worry that the counsellor will come with an agenda to change us. We may worry that, as a result our life (which, whilst not entirely happy, is at least in some order) will be thrown into chaos and we’ll end up worse off. I know that no counsellor or therapist worth their salt would push their agenda onto a client, but that’s not to say it’s never happened or that people have never found their lives more difficult after starting a counselling relationship. The inescapable truth though is that when people are facing persistent difficulties something needs to change. In my experience, that change is much more likely when we can find a way of sharing the load with another.

I’m excited that 2021 should offer the opportunity to catch up with old friends but also meet new people, but I know this isn’t true of everybody. Whatever would make your life better than this year, I wish it for you. (I hope it’s that simple!)

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