During counselling and psychotherapy sessions the therapist may ask the client to talk about their childhood. Sometimes people will struggle with this and feel that the therapist is blaming families, parents or childhood experiences for the current difficulties an individual may be experiencing. So is this what is happening, are difficulties due to our childhoods and parents, or does the therapist have other reasons for asking about childhood?

According to Psychotherapists such as John Bowlby and Melanie Klein, our earliest relationships act as a blueprint through which we can understand others, ourselves and the world. Through those early interactions we can learn and make sense of others’ feelings and behaviours towards us and how we ourselves can influence others. We do this by letting our needs be known (ie hunger) and alerting others to our needs, by crying for example. If we have positive experiences of others meeting our needs we can then start to see the world and others as safe.

What is crucial here is that as children mature they begin to develop patterns of feeling and behaving based on their experiences and the way they have perceived their experiences. Here it is crucial to understand that the way we view events and people’s intentions, can be quite different from the reality of what has actually happened, or what a persons’ intentions actually are. So for example if a child was scared by a loud bang, even if this bang was a harmless door slamming, they may
develop a pattern of fear each time they hear a loud bang, if they were not reassured and soothed at the time. If the fear is not worked through and remains unresolved this may then develop unconsciously into increased anxiety and fear at any unexpected noise, leading to a person seeking counselling for anxiety.

What is interesting for therapists is the reason for the anxiety, so that this can be worked through and understood, rather than to attribute blame to an individual or parent.  Once the therapist has understood more about the reasons for the difficulties this can then be explored with the individual seeking counselling. When the original cause of the difficulty has been understood, and this has been worked through in relation to the impact this is having in the present, ie feelings of general anxiety, the individual will begin to feel more in control and distress will be reduced.

The above is a simple example of what a person seeking counselling might experience and the reason behind feelings of anxiety. Our experiences in childhood can be complex and one simple and neat explanation is often not what will be found through therapy. By exploring a persons experiences in the here and now and linking this back to some experiences in childhood a person can gain a greater understanding of themselves, and overwhelming feelings can be made sense of and then worked within the present moment.