Leading therapist reveals how you need to take control of your life

You CAN turn heartache into happiness: We all go through tough times, but as a leading therapist explains, it’s no good sobbing — you need to take control of your own life

  • Psychotherapist Julia Samuel wrote This Too Shall Pass about crisis and change
  • British author says that even the most robust people can struggle with change 
  • Her last book, Grief Works, drew on accounts of bereavement from her clients 

PSYCHOLOGY 

THIS TOO SHALL PASS 

by Julia Samuel (Penguin £14.99, 352 pp)

Nearly 15 years of writing an advice column (on top of many more years as a journalist specialising in the sorrow, struggle and pity of human life) have taught me the truth of ancient wisdom.

There is nothing new under the sun — yet all things change, and we change with them.

So the problems we inevitably have to endure (love, grief, loneliness, fear, separation, anger, jealousy, frustration and so on) are in essence the same, yet each encounter with them is unique.

Psychotherapist Julia Samuel’s (pictured) last book, Grief Works, drew on accounts of bereavement from her consulting room

What’s more, each issue makes its own demands on the individual, forcing them to change in order to cope with these shifts in experience. This process can be the hardest thing any of us have to face.

Yet there is no choice. This is the message of This Too Shall Pass by the psychotherapist Julia Samuel.

The subtitle, ‘Stories of change, crisis and hopeful beginnings’, reinforces the glorious, caring optimism of the title. Reading this book is like sitting in a quiet, comfortable room with your eyes closed, and feeling somebody take your hand and tell you softly: ‘It’s going to be all right, you know. So just take a deep breath and tell yourself you can do this.’

Julia Samuel’s last book, Grief Works, drew on accounts of bereavement from her consulting room, but even though her specialism has been grief, Samuel’s clients present with many varied problems that we all face.

So this book gives examples from five categories: family relationships, love, work, health and identity — each section containing from three to five different stories.

I can guarantee that most of us will recognise ourselves and people we know within these pages, regardless of whether a particular experience is new to us. Julia Samuel sums up my own profound belief when she writes simply: ‘I believe we learn best through understanding each other.’ Amen to that.

This is a book about people and processes. The case histories include an overbearing mother who has quarrelled with her daughter over her wedding, a woman finding love at 73, a female executive dealing with setbacks at work, a hapless young man who drives his therapist mad by being late and a retired man learning how to adjust to the new circumstances. A wise summing up of what we have learnt from the stories follows each section.

Psychotherapist Julia Samuel (pictured) explains that the job of a therapist is to guide you towards tough realisation, rather than to sigh and comfort 

Samuel explains: ‘The stories of my clients show that even the most robust people can find change difficult.

‘The thread that connects them, whatever their age or circumstances, is that each person had to work on themselves actively to understand their unique response to change, and develop the necessary coping mechanism.’

Much later she reflects: ‘It seems a miracle to me that our brains really are plastic; we can change.

‘However tight the knot of our perceptions and beliefs, if we put our mind to shifting it, bearing the discomfort, even pain of it, and persist, something inevitably changes.’ Note that essential word, ‘mind’.

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Percentage of new fathers worldwide who suffer from post-natal depression 

These stories demonstrate that you cannot take control of your own life by moaning and sobbing, you need to think and decide and act. It’s surely the job of the therapist (and the advice columnist!) not to sigh and say ‘poor you’ but to guide you towards that tough realisation.

Julia Samuel’s compassionate realism shines through every word of this wise, kind volume. It is emphatically not a ‘self-help’ book, but a beautifully written celebration of the strength of the human spirit. Yes, we are tested all the time, but the greatest test of character is to make that process work for us. Make no mistake, pain is inescapable: ‘Unfortunately, change is for the bad as well as the good.

When life sucks we say: ‘This too shall pass’ and hopefully it does — but here’s the hitch: when life is good, it too, inevitably, will pass. The difficult truth we must face is that only death stops us changing.’

THIS TOO SHALL PASS by Julia Samuel (Penguin £14.99, 352 pp) 

Wisdom and experience alone would make this essential reading for us all — but, in addition, the extraordinary generosity of Julia’s personality shines through every word, offering profound understanding and consolation. She is always present.

When she senses one client has understood something, ‘I feel a throb of energy.’ Sara, a refugee from Raqqa, ‘taught me to look deeply at my assumptions from my own life, where I had blind spots, and to examine my own prejudices’.

Hearing about the young Caz’s upbringing by his single mother, Samuel writes: ‘I could clearly picture the tough time she’d had juggling parents and work. I silently sent her a nod of respect and admiration.’

When she meets a young mother called Rachel, she writes: ‘I felt tenderness towards the parts of her that had been silenced’ — but then worries that she feels too maternal towards this client, and discusses that with her own supervisor.

It feels a privilege reading this wonderful book full of insight to be allowed to share in this process of learning, understanding and bestowing . . . yes . . . the word is love.

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