Who's driving the bus - shifting gears, making fresh choices

10 months ago by Marcos Frangos

This month, inspired by David Owen‘s article, I’m reflecting on themes from my client work as a holistic counsellor. I’ve called this ‘Who’s driving the bus?’ as I’ve been deeply privileged to witness people become capable of switching (inner) drivers, finding new gears, and making more life-affirming choices.

As I reflect, perhaps most central and consistent as a thread throughout my clients’ journeys is the need for a few factors:

Safety and kindness: Relational and psychological safety are central to all of us - it’s as important for a teenager as it is an octogenarian. Carl Rogers, the grandfather of person-centred counselling, believed a person’s behaviour is motivated by a natural movement towards “self-actualisation. “He described it like an innate movement that (with the right conditions in place) happens, like a plant will naturally move towards the light. I’ve seen this evolution as clients achieve more of their potential, it’s beautiful, touching and makes me smile inwardly.

Who’s driving the Bus? Rogers observed that people form a structure of self, a ‘self-concept’ and in a way, that’s the person that becomes our (internal) bus driver. Consciously or not, they determine where the bus goes, who comes on board (who you’re in relationship with and how you relate) etc etc. The bus driver might be a version of ourselves that we’re used to – or it might be a self-concept that’s quite hidden to us. Potentially we have many versions of self-concept that co-exist, and over a lifetime they evolve. Who the driver is at any one time depends on the circumstances we’re in, our family of origin, cultural norms, socioeconomic factors, ancestry, beliefs, education and more.

Oftentimes, what brings people into counselling is a sense of a mismatch between the driver (those self-concepts), where we are on the self-actualising journey, and who else is on our bus, in other words people around us that impact our lives. My clients may recognise that at some level, where they’ve ended up might not be the destination they had in mind. Somewhere in our deepest knowing (I am comfortable with the concept and word, soul), we know there’s potential for greater health, vitality, learning, meaning-making, a greater sense of well-being.

The benefits of working holistically is that the doorways through which we can understand ‘Who’s driving the Bus?’ are practically infinite, including being interested in dis-ease. We often enquire in this work, what might my illness say to me (or about me) if it could speak?

Switching bus drivers: Moving to more positive self-concepts is more like a migration between lands than it is a rapid switch over of drivers – it can take time, effort, persistence, a route map. What’s essential to the switching process is that we build a trusting relationship: think about what’s been possible in your life when you’ve felt unconditionally witnessed, appreciated, understood – we begin to feel safe (enough) to migrate from one self-concept to another. Carl Rogers famously said that unconditional positive regard is a key quality that creates safety.

Kindness too is important: I sometimes feel kindness gets a bad press, as if it’s warm and fluffy, incompatible with being congruent and truth-speaking. Far from it, kindness to self and others is the bedrock for switching drivers. Kindness, even in the face of human suffering, is a powerful enabler. It won’t take away the trauma a client has experienced, but it really helps us to remain interested in who’s driving.

Ghostly drivers: Sometimes our self-concepts are so deeply unconscious and ingrained, we can’t even name who’s in the driving seat, it’s such a habituated pattern it can be like describing a shapeless ghost. Patterns establish from early childhood, indeed, sometimes the best we can do when facing deep challenge is simply to survive it. It takes safety, courage and time to bring our these patterns and self-concepts to light…

Naming patterns: as I look back here are some themes I’ve noticed:

  • Stop the bus, chuck out the driver! When a client says to me: “I want to stop doing x,y, or z behaviour, I often say: hang on, let’s first seek to understand the driver - the behaviours, beliefs and patterns. What’s their systemic purpose? They’re not here by accident, they’ve been fulfilling a function and sure, they might now feel in need of an update, but let’s not chuck them off the bus. What if they have a right to be on the bus, but maybe not driving? They may have kept us alive, I bet they carry a lot of wisdom from experience, so let’s honour the former drivers too.
  • Better the Devil (or driver) you know: let’s be honest, for most of us certainty-seeking humans, change is scary! We can sometimes be very wedded to patterns and self-concepts - all the stories we carry about us, about who we are, who others are, what’s right and wrong. I’ve seen in myself and in my clients, sometimes we maintain a pattern even if it’s dysfunctional. Do you sometimes recognise this energy in yourself: “ I’m the architect of my castle, I know how high the walls are, how to keep people out with a moat, I’ve gotten pretty good at defending myself against change!”
  • Belonging is vital, it can come with a hefty price: The human need to belong and to feel part of a system is so powerful that sometimes even a family system or a relationship that’s violent (physical, psychological, emotional, sexual) is better than belonging to nothing at all. We are deeply social, interdependent beings, now only with our human family and tribe, but with all sentient life around us. But sometimes that belonging means we learn certain behaviours and self-concepts: For example: “You come first!” or “I’m lovable because I rescue you”, or ”You can always count on me, I’ll be the reliable one, the one that you can turn to, no matter what”.

I hope you've enjoyed reading this.  If you're curious about holistic counselling and reading this has stimulated some questions, please get in touch and schedule an intake appointment with me.  I'll be happy to hear from you.