Yesterday went to see the film Love and Mercy about Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Absorbing and unsettling as it traces alongside the great musical gift his fragile state of mind … at one point he states ‘I think I’m losing it’ and some of the later song lyrics after the jolly surfing sound of the early years reflected both the inspiration and disintegration from the voices in his head. Drug taking exacerbated this fragility and then Brian Wilson comes under the malevolent influence of a psychologist (later struck off) who basically uses and abuses him by playing into the ill man’s fears and re-enacting in a terrifying way Wilson’s early childhood traumas with a domineering, crushing and violent father.
The power and influence of what happens to us as children was a strong message in this film and it reminded me of Harry Guntrip the British object relations psychoanalyst who so memorably wrote that ‘Water can always run in the dried up river beds again’. He meant that despite growing up and putting the past behind us or even feeling that we have worked through it it remains a possibility that old wounds will re open. Guntrip advocated the type of therapy that allows the damaged child to heal through a trusting and safe relationship and he himself worked on his own childhood trauma into his old age. Interestingly it was only after hearing of the death of D. W. Winnicott, his later analyst, that Guntrip had a dream that revealed the early trauma Guntrip had experienced with the death of his baby brother and the response of Guntrip’s destructive mother.
He understood that problems needed to become conscious so they could be understood usually through interpretations made by the analyst. He thought that part of the process was to bring what is hidden into conscious awareness through the provision of:
‘… a reliable and understanding human relationship of a kind that makes contact with the deeply repressed traumatised child that enables one to become steadily more able to live, in the security of a new real relationship, with the traumatic legacy of the earliest formative years, as it seeps through or erupts into consciousness.’
He emphasized that the process involved is one of interaction, ‘a function of two variables, the personalities of two people working together towards free spontaneous growth… it is the meeting and interacting of two real people in all its complex possibilities.’ Such an interaction can involve stages of dependence, regression, and unconscious communication as the damaged child part is brought into the light.
In the film Wilson was saved through love – the love of the woman who was to later become his wife and through the mercy of grace. Love and Mercy is also the title of a late song written after he was freed from psychological imprisonment.