Ashwood Therapy Blog

Removing Lids From Rattling Boxes

I find that clients work with images during therapy in different ways.  For some, talking about a concept or a situation is how they prefer to do things, whereas with other clients when things are down on paper/a virtual whiteboard they can see how things currently are for them much more clearly.  One image I have used both with online and offline clients is the idea that our minds can be seen as a storeroom.  In this storeroom are many boxes, some with labels on, and some without.  Many boxes just sit there, not making any noise or causing any difficulty, whereas others seem to be constantly rattling, almost as if they are saying “hey, come over here and look inside!

The boxes that are sitting neatly on the shelf, perhaps with a carefully written label and properly stacked, might be content to sit there all day, every day, never demanding our attention.  The labels might read ‘my 7th birthday party’, or ‘Auntie Jane’s wedding’.  Whatever is inside those boxes – the memories and feelings, conversations and experiences – are neatly sorted and give us no cause for concern.  Other boxes, however, seem to burst open at inopportune moments, and can leave us scrambling to stuff thoughts and feelings back inside while trying to maintain our composure.  We might be out with our partners, at work on the way to that important meeting, or lying awake at night.  When that lid flies off, get ready!

The boxes image is one which can help clients compartmentalize experiences and situations, whether they are spoken about or written down as a visual aid.  Sometimes I send a client through a document with pictures of boxes of different sizes, with a space to name what is in each box.  Just the very act of naming what it is that is rattling (or naming it as “the box that wakes me up”) can be liberating.  No longer are these issues rattling in the murky darkness of that storeroom, but they are out and are being acknowledged.  The client is taking some of their power back.

To extend the image, a client may choose to take one box out of the storeroom each week as we meet, place it in the virtual space between us and together we can peer inside.  The aim is to eventually sort the contents of that box so that it can sit more quietly in its place in the storeroom.  It may still rattle now and then, but once thoroughly examined the client is aware of what it is that is making the noise, as such, and often they report being less phased by a sudden jolt back there in the gloom.  The client feels more in control.

I like the image of the storeroom, as it is the client who decides when we tackle which particular box, and if things have been difficult for whatever reason, the regular box can be left for a week while we look at one on another shelf.  Once the client trusts in the therapeutic relationship and process, those difficult boxes can seem less menacing and more mundane.  The client decides when is the right time to look, at what, and for how long.

If you were to cast a backwards glance into the storeroom of your own mind, are there any shelves that you would instinctively avoid?  Are there any boxes that seem problematic, and have done so for a while now?  If you felt able, which lids would you lift, in order that in time they would fit more comfortably and rattle less back there?

Rob Oglesby MBACP (Accred) B.A. (Hons) BSc | Ashwood Therapy

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Removing Lids From Rattling Boxes | Ashwood Therapy Blog