I recently read We Need to Talk About Kevin. If you’re unfamiliar with the text, it is written from the perspective of a mother whose always-peculiar son – the eponymous Kevin – goes into school one day and massacres a number of fellow pupils, a teacher and a canteen worker caught in the cross-fire.
So far, so ordinary. Whilst tragic in every conceivable way, and whilst highlighting wider social issues such as the taboos and stereotypes that society pretends don’t exist, explorations of high school massacres have been…well, they’ve been done, you know? I’ve seen countless documentaries and a few films on the subject (the most high-profile of which is Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, which really worth watching if you’ve not yet done so, even if you’re of the view that Mr Moore is something of a twat), and of course there are many books, songs, and even a game (!) on the topic.
But Kevin is different. Without rehearsing the entire text, it examines Kevin’s psychology, and that of his mother Eva, from every angle you can imagine. Was Kevin born ‘bad’? Was Eva’s lack of emotional attachment to her son from day one a catalyst for an inevitably sociopathic character? Is such a character genuinely incapable of feeling normal human affects? Nature vs nurture. The way the concept of parental love has been become so innately woven into the threads of Western society that no one talks about the fact that sometimes it just doesn’t exist. The impact of all-consuming grief on those left behind. And so much more.
The following is the first of a series I intend to write on guided imagery – also known as guided affective therapy or katathym imaginative therapy – as a psychotherapeutic device. Although punctuated and (hopefully!) free from any major grammatical errors, it’s essentially a free-writing recollection of my therapy sessions in which this technique was used.
I am told there is a house on a hill. Can I see it in my mind?
Close eyes, lean back head, breathe deeply. But eventually…yes. Yes, I can.
And am I willing to agree to a guide taking me around the house, but let my own mind decide the specifics of the house’s aesthetics?
I draw breath, and close my eyes briefly in contemplation. But yes. Yes, I am.
How do you view the psychiatric phenomenon of psychosis? Is psychosis the quintessential stereotype of madness – people so badly affected by a mental illness that they live only in the world of apparent make-believe, where they talk to imaginary friends, view ‘real’ people with morbid suspicion, and worry that the pair of curtains that adorn the window are symbolic of communication from alien races?
If anything, it’s an idea that has been almost romanticised by fiction and the film industry – but if you’re reading this, then the chances are you know that it’s bollocks. All those things can be true of someone suffering from a psychotic episode, but the idea that it is a permanent state that routinely requires a strait jacket and a padded cell is as outdated as it is offensive.