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  • Writer's pictureZena Nicholas

I see dead people ...

Massive spoiler warning for those that haven't watch The Sixth Sense

Ok a little dramatic for a title but you should have seen me when I watched this film in my early 20s! To my mother's amusement/ delight of still being needed - I asked her to stand outside the door when I went to the bathroom - due to my intense state of fear! I saw the film again last week, with it's vivid portrayal of disconnection and miscommunication... You will be pleased to know I managed to go to the bathroom all by myself this time.

It was after my next personal therapy session that the concept of ghosts resurfaced; I spoke about the experience of not being able to establish or the losing connection with someone [not a client]. Times when I can't get a sense of them or their expressions make no sense to me: when they look like some sort of 3D moving mask - and the person I would connect with seems to have gone somewhere, I don't know where... but I am alone now.

In these situations I may “go away” too, I am still talking but I am not there. I am using a script or speaking very quickly about all sorts of things and I am numb until I become aware I have disassociated - then feel intense anxiety. Which makes a lot of sense, I have just realised my internal AI has been in charge and could get caught any second now acting as a human.

When I am with those close to me I can become intense, asking many questions. I have to feel very safe to do this. I become the scientist, analyst and lawyer. Why did your face do that? That makes no sense, that happened before and your face didn't do that. Is it because I haven't done x? But I could understand why not doing x could make your face do that, what else could it be?

The most outwardly healthy looking response would be me being very attuned and super helpful. Again I am no longer there really, because it's not safe. They don't see me, they only see what I represent to them and that's threatening. This is not a friendly ghost, I must play along until I can slip away.

In these moments, it feels like I am facing a presence I cannot fully understand or engage with. Anxiety starts to grow as I face this uncomfortable situation - because how do you deal with a ghost? Who do you call?

We should be able to call a therapist, but what if our therapist is a ghost too?

I want to invite a moment of reflection. What theories are you building in your mind about my experiences? Trauma, neurodivergence, cPTSD, oppression, racism, sexism, ableism, generational trauma?

It's important to recognise that while theories are essential to be aware of, they can sometimes create more disconnection, especially when experts may not have fully understood someone's experiences. So if that is where you have gone, I ask you to please come back to me, because I didn't write this blog for ghosts.

I have spent too many years moderating therapists communities to be impressed by qualifications. In the Sixth Sense Bruce Willis plays an actual award winning ghost therapist - but the young child knows he's a ghost and he doesn't. Fair enough we don't see Bruce Willis see his supervisor during the film which could have been helpful - but then again he may have had a ghost supervisor who also didn't know they were a ghost!

How to spot a ghost therapist:

A ghost therapist can be very intelligent. They may know a lot and claim that they have a theory and it is the correct/ best theory. You may be thinking phew that's not me, but don't dismiss this one too quickly. If you studied in the UK, I know from personal experience the likelihood is that you were taught a white eurocentric, heteronormative, neurotypical theory and may not even be aware that there are other perspectives, or open to them.

Then there are those therapists that on the surface have done the work, they have attended the workshops and read the books, but there is something still not right. If you are sensitive to ghosts you may sense they need you to confirm to them that they are not a ghost. But that's dangerous, don't fall for this, you have seen those micro flashes of anger that they don't appear to register themselves - they appear friendly but trust your instinct and know it's not your job to educate a ghost - ghosts do not like being told they are a ghost.

Finally there are the ghost therapists that not only don't know they are ghosts but also don't remember or understand what happened to them before they became ghost therapists. These therapists have so much potential, but they first need to spend more time processing their own trauma before they can fully engage in the work of a therapist. This isn't to say this is a process with an end, we are all a work in progress but you need to know you are on the journey at the very least. I have seen too many therapists that have forgotten there are 4 panes of glass in Johari Window.

Real therapists

Real alive therapists have a calm warmth about them, it may not be a typical warmth but they will feel genuine. Meeting them can feel intense and you may want to run away. That's ok, real therapists understand this and know you may come back when you are ready, and if not they will wish for you to find a path that is more suited to you. Even when you sense something isn't right and you lose connection - they come back and reestablish connection, or they come and find you if you go away. They don't want anything from you, you don't need to pretend anything with them. You could call them the 'compassionate good enough parent' - I wouldn't but many people connect with that notion. For me they are just alive and alive people are all I need, because I am a playful soul and ghosts are not great at playing I have found.

This obviously isn't a blog about ghosts, it is a blog about unconsciousness - whether it is momentary disconnection, trauma based dissociation or societal unconscious oppression, (trauma based disassociation on a mass scale). It almost felt a little gimmicky writing this blog and yet the film The Sixth Sense had such a profound impact on me for a reason. I related to the young boy so deeply, his wise innocence - feeling powerless to the ghosts that haunted him but trying to lose himself in play as he coexist alongside them. Protecting his loved ones from his pain. Dissociation is a powerful weapon against ghosts, but the hope is that it is only used temporarily because if you use it too long you may become a ghost too and connection becomes hard. A real therapist can help, create a space where you can practise coming back in and teach yourself... it's ok in some spaces, you can feel safe in your body - even if you have to create pockets of time or spaces for you to do this. You may be a little jumpy still, but as long as you expect that it's something you can manage.

I don't have a neat message for you as there is no formula for therapy. Different things work for different people at different times. One thing much of the research in our field points towards is that the relationship is key, you could say the theories themselves are surface level stuff, engaging with the intellect. Really all that matters is that you keep coming back and doing the work. So whether its the theory that sparks your interest or your therapist's awful jokes that keeps you coming back - as long as you keep practicing connection the idea is that over time things get better.

For me I want my therapists to embrace the process of supporting me. I don't need experts, I was born wise, I just need help remembering that. What I need from you is your presence, understanding and the willingness to learn - and not from me. I need you to actively avoid becoming a ghost, you will need to engage in ongoing personal reflection and experiential learning - the stuff that makes you feel really uncomfortable - because the first step in battling against unconsciousness is knowing you are a ghost in the first place.

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