Last night I thought of something I wish I had said to one of my clients.
I imagined emailing her.
And I thought about why I am not going to do that.
It would break the container.
What do I mean by container?
Every week she comes to my office. I greet her in the waiting room and welcome her in to my office. I close both sets of double doors behind her.
There we are safe. Sealed in.
She says what is on her mind.
It is intimate. And sacred.
We can say things to each other because we are in a sealed room.
What we say to each other is not to be repeated outside the room.
The safety makes it possible for her to be a bit more vulnerable.
To tolerate a view of herself that hurts. Or say something she feels that she wouldn’t dare say to someone in her life.
We are together moment by moment – reading each other’s cues, examining what the experience is like for her.
I think of her after the session but I don’t email her.
Because email is not the sealed room.
Email is “every day” communication. Outside the container.
She and I have a contract that has to do with the sealed room.
That feeling we have of sitting down in the therapist’s office for a different kind of conversation. A different experience.
It’s this contract – or working alliance – that we have built over time that allows us to speak as we do – honestly.
We don’t have to make each other feel better. We can speak the truth. And talk about how we feel about it.
We put the light of day on her and her life.
If I send an email “I was thinking about what we said and….”
She gets it in the midst of her daily life. She is not in therapy when she gets it. The communication is mixed in with many others. She may be with others when she gets it. She doesn’t have a chance to respond. I can’t see her face when she reads it.
It is outside the container that is therapy.
The baby on the plane is making eyes at me. She is thrilled with my smile. I am thrilled with hers. Her excitement overwhelms her and she buries her face in her mother’s shoulder.
She leans back on her mother’s arm, looking at the ceiling and the lights. Then she looks to her mother, grabs her lips with her hand. They look at each other.
Next she is investigating the seat buckle. Grabbing at it. There is a latch that she catches on some of her grabs – she knows it is there, but she can’t figure out how to get her hand to make it move.
She has a secure base – her mother is holding her. From here she explores the world. When she needs to come back to her mother – her mother is right there.
This is the container that we need in order to grow and explore and learn and thrive.
Therapy gives us a particular kind of holding that allows us to do new things we haven’t done before. In the room, in each moment, we have the opportunity to turn back to the holding therapist for grounding. This holding is essential for the work of change.
There are many other types of containers.
Our first caregivers held us.
Our homes hold us.
Our pets hold us.
Nature holds us.
People hold us.
We can grow into an ability to hold ourselves. Or to allow our physical environment to hold us.
Often, we need a person to hold us for a good long while before we can do this. A lot depends on how we were handed over to ourselves in our original holding.
The container is not a concept – it is an experience.
If I email my client in this instance it would be a poke rather than a holding.
We know we are held when we can let ourselves exhale and be the people we are.