Illustration: Martin Jessup
By Yasmin Headley
Editor’s note: The author is an accredited Integrative Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) psychotherapist in private practice in London, UK. Yasmin is also studying for a PhD in Mind-Body Medicine and Integrated Mental Health. She has followed EastEnders on and off over the years. You can reach her at email@example.com and read more about her background and practice at www.yourhappiness.com and www.thecompletelife.com
We are all a subject of our history. Anyone who tells you other- wise is trying to sell you something or is invested in your continuing to live as you are.
For some this is a good thing, for many this is not the way to go on. Many would love the magic elixir that would get rid of every negative break with the past, but it is not possible to do so in a bottle, a happy thought or magic.
In looking at a psyche of a person we would look at their history, their present life and their thoughts and behaviour. We would look at the support system and resources they have in their lives and we would look at what they do when they are stressed.
In some therapies, such as the psychodynamic and the psychoanalytic, a great deal of time is spent on patients’ pasts and in the unfurling of their history. In cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is the approach I take, I spend some time there, but I also look at their feelings, thoughts and behaviours now. These are key to helping an individual change. Modern-day research shows how we are not just a subject of history and genetics but we are also affected by epigenetics. Epigenetics involves our environment, those who we have around us, the food we eat and our activities.
Dot Branning a/k/a
Age: around 87 years old
Many bereavements. Extremely difficult relationship with her son. Potential for suicide and/or psychotic break: unlikely. She lives in Walford, England. Works as a manageress at the Walford Launderette and is a church warden.
“You know I ain’t one to gossip.”
“What about God’s law?”
“Forgive me if I’m wrong.”
What would we do without Dorothy Branning? Dot is one of those iconic British characters who has been on our screens for nearly three decades. She comes across as an ultra-religious, chain-smoking hypochondriac with a son who has done some of the worst things possible to his ever long-suffering mother. We seem to sit around wondering what he could do to her next and get away with.
Dot grew up during the Second World War. A time of scarcity,
rationing, and of making do with what little you had. It was a time when children in London had been moved away from their families to live in the provinces to escape the German bombing raids. Many children who experienced this suffered. It was a time of huge loss. This is the character Dot grew into.
This has been Dot’s journey in life, and you do hear much of
suffering, loss, abandonment, precaution and of pain. You also hear of hope, happiness and pleasure in the little things in life; the cups of tea and chats in the pub and launderette.
I often see clients who seem to feel that their children’s failures are really their own. Or seem to be stuck in the ‘blame the parents’ loop.
Dot so wants so to believe the best in others and that all who can be redeemed can be saved. The ‘cross’ she bears is her son. He is her constant reminder of her feelings of failure, pain and grief. Her final understanding will come and does come when she learns to let go and leave things to God.
When she realises that Nick does have a part to play in his own downfall, and it is not her lot to keep forgiving. Dot has often been a martyr as a wife and then even more as a widow. Prejudices and beliefs are interesting vehicles, and we all have them. It would be rare for a person not to have any. These can be ageism, sexism, homophobia, and even animals and children. Hers appears to be homophobia. Such prejudices grow from learned environmental and religious beliefs, and fear of the unknown.
Many have said Dot’s religiousness is her weakness. I disagree; her religion is probably the only thing that saves her. If it were not for that where would she have hope or even her little sparkles of insights? It goes beyond her constant quotations from the Bible. Dot or Dorothy is always hoping that when she clicks her red shoes the Wizard will eventually appear and answer all her prayers.
If Dot were in front of me, if there were a real live Dot seated as a client, what would I be looking to treat? Her anxiety levels seem very high. She might also be suffering from depression. I would not know more until I had properly assessed her. She does seem to be a highly anxious individual, seems to be on tenterhooks and always highly charged.
It could be generalised anxiety disorder. She seems to worry about everything, and her anxious thoughts flit around and float freely. It seems odd, doesn’t it? She worries about her health and her ‘nerves’, yet smokes like a trooper. Dot worries about the past, the present and the future. She worries about her worries and the worries of those around her, too.
In sessions we would be discussing her thoughts, behaviours, emotions and physical reactions. I would be looking into adding more self-calming approaches such as mindfulness, autogenic training, guided imagery and even music. Maybe looking into exercise: swimming, walking to appreciate God’s creatures and bounty. All to help lower her anxiety levels.
However, where would we be if everyone on Walford had CBT? There would be no EastEnders and none of the wonderful ‘acting out’ that goes on. It would make very boring viewing! Meanwhile, we have Dot Branning waiting for the Wizard of Walford and unaware that she is the one who really holds the key to her own future.
N.B. Please note that these are imaginary musings and do not rep- resent an actual clinical case study.