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  • Writer's picturePaul Matthew

Compartmentalisation and utilising our cultural resources after the blurred lines of a pandemic

I don’t think any of you will have missed the global pandemic we’ve been going through the past nearly two years. Even if you lived under a rock, I think it would have affected you. It feels like everything you do or read these days has some connection to the pandemic, what it has caused, who it has hurt, what the “new normal” might be looking like now or in six months. It was hard being a therapist during the pandemic. I set my private practice up during it, I don’t know what “normal” looks like in private practice. I know whatever my “normal” is, it works for me. It works for my clients.

It wasn’t easy. I would listen to the fears and worries that clients have. Often, mirroring my own, about an unknown thing that was affecting every living soul.

Sometimes, I found myself resting on what for me are the basics of being a therapist; being congruent that I understood and felt some of those fears, being empathic and holding the space for the client to feel those feelings without letting parallel processes disrupt the therapeutic experience for the client. The other thing that I rested on, being a pluralistically trained therapist, was utilising the client’s cultural resources in therapy.

The number of times I asked, “what brings you peace, distraction, joy in life”, “what hobbies/ activities/ things in your life make you feel that way” and got the response “I used to do ____ but during the pandemic I stopped”. I realised time and time again the pandemic often untaught us how to rely on what works.

Obviously, for many, new cultural resources found their way into their lives. Who didn’t have a sourdough starter (mine was Baby Yo-dough – yes I named it).

How many of us never want to see sourdough for at least another 18 months?

Many binge-watched Netflix or found new podcasts, walked to places in their own neighbourhood they had never been to before as the hustle and bustle of the 9 to 5 made its way to more family time with work from home.

I often heard clients say the commute helped them separate work from their home life and let them unwind. As someone who has also been working from home, doing much from a few rooms, I understand that feeling. It’s hard to switch off from work when it feels like your work is at that desk a few metres away. calls it “transition rituals”, it allowed us to compartmentalize our lives into the boxes they needed to be in, each box in its own place. If that box is open on the floor in your house next to all the other boxes, then that’s hard to keep them separate.

I’ve made it a part of my therapeutic practice to use the metaphor of boxes, it’s helped clients’ picture what their boxes might look like and how they can keep them separate in this world we find ourselves in, many still working from home but much else open and available. I ask what colour the boxes are, what labels they have, what’s in the box and most importantly how they can keep those boxes separate. Clients have drawn the boxes, or described them, physically imagined moving them or leaving a box behind at therapy and picking it back up when they return. All of these rituals seem to have been very helpful for clients. Carolina Diaz in her article on metaphor ( likens using metaphor in therapy to storytelling, telling someone’s story through someone else’s lens lets them see it from a different angle.

Similarly, where we lose our way with the boxes of our life, we lose our way with our cultural resources, many found sport to be an outlet and lost sport, many found social interaction to be an outlet and that became difficult in the pandemic.

Personally, I have always been a musician, I’ve played a gig or two a month for the past 18 years and honestly, I didn’t realise how much I needed it when the pandemic happened. Recently I went back to playing gigs and I nearly cried at the end of the first one with the relief. I too had had to adjust my resources and find other ways to find peace during the pandemic. I now find myself with a little more in the way of resource than I had before the pandemic, while I am overjoyed that my first love of music is back, I won’t forget my new ways of unwinding.

Our cultural resources can be an important tool for our wellbeing and are often used to aid in pluralistic therapy. Mick Cooper and John McLeod touch on it in their therapy today article on the anniversary of the founding of Pluralistic therapy (, they mention the use of “creative and expressive activities to enhance client collaborative involvement in therapy; the process of enabling clients to make use of cultural resources and social capital to help in addressing current personal difficulties”.

So, finally, I ask this question: have you let your cultural resources slide during the pandemic? Is it time to perhaps rekindle them? If you have them perhaps you are ignoring them, are their hobbies, activities etc that bring you peace and can you be doing more of that especially when you are feeling anxious, low, or just not quite yourself?

Paul Matthew


References (All Accessed 22/09/2021)

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