So no great revelation here that Shakespeare was a genius, but I saw a fantastic production of Eve Best’s Macbeth at the Globe this week (go if you can). As the play draws to its fraught end, with Macbeth and his wife unravelling, Macbeth asks of his wife’s failing health to his doctor:
Not so sick, my lord,
As she is troubled with thick coming fancies,
That keep her from her rest.
Cure her of that.
Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuff’d bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?
Therein the patient
Must minister to himself.
Therapists encounter clients who want to be prescribed something to ‘cure’ them, or told what to do or say – just as a GP may effectively deal with an infection with a prescription. Indeed, therapists, early on in their experience, often repeat this desire for an answer from their supervisor, when struggling with something in their clinical work.
But therapy tries to improve our relationship to ourself – the ‘curing’ or ‘healing’ begins with our own ability to tolerate, bear and live with internal distress. This takes courage to ‘minister to ourselves’ as it means approaching rather than avoiding distress and then, crucially, not judging ourselves for it.