Frank Capra’s timeless movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” is a story which I believe can be regarded as a therapeutic tool that offers the viewer to visually understand self realisation.
The whole premise is summed up at the end of the film by a sentence scrawled in a book,
“No man is a failure, who has friends.” A very beautiful sentiment that goes further to show us the impact that each person has on another, which in turn cascades, like a butterfly effect…
“Each person touches so many people’s lives.” Another quote from the film.
The film works on a number of levels, and also incorporates a series of fundamentally basic themes:
I’ve always found the film to be representative of everything I ever felt was wrong with ‘my’ world. To me, now, it symbolizes person centered therapy in that it charts one mans struggle to overcome his own feelings of inadequacy and failure to reveal true human spirit.
It’s the story of George Bailey, who longs to leave his home town of Bedford Falls. To see the world and make a difference in it. However, his loyalties and love of his family keep him confined to his hometown, along with his ongoing battle to save the town from the clutches of Potter, a character who is the opposite of everything George Bailey stands for. Namely, decency, humility and loyalty.
In my own experience I have found myself trapped in such a way,
“The mental prison is devastatingly lonely, because ultimately, it is you who locks yourself up within a demented idea or feeling.” Writes John O’Donohue in his book ETERNAL ECHOES.
I also felt I had a responsibility to stay at home, look after my ailing Mother. Frustration, anger and resentment grew. Which I directed at both myself, and those around me.
In Capra’s film however, George Bailey’s anger and frustration at himself grows to a breaking point, when faced with bankruptcy and public disgrace. Here it is exhibited towards his kindly uncle, whom George, shaking violently shouts,
“Where’s the money you stupid old man? Do you know what this means? Bankruptcy, disgrace… And prison… Well it’s not gonna’ be me…”
Here George comes to the conclusion that his life and the life of those around him would be ultimately better if he were dead!
When a person reaches that desperate point in their life, a point of utter desolation; when the mire in which their sinking in, is slowly sucking the life out of them, and of all the people around them. It initiates a sense of hopelessness and frustrations, a point of self-pitying observations ensue…
“It always happens to me.”
“It’s never gonna’ change.”
“They’d be better off without me.”
“I wish I were dead!”
“I wish I’d never been born!..”
Such thoughts can become all consuming. The person then seems to withdraw into themselves, searching for ways to escape the ‘self’ which has now become fuelled with negativity towards all hope of recovery.
It is at this point when a person may well question their ‘right’ to exist in the world. Preferring instead, to be rid of themselves and all their worries once and for all.
It may well be at this point of ‘apparent’ no return that a person will turn to a counsellor. Initially, I have found the possibility of the person ‘realistically’ believing that counselling will help them is unlikely. Moreover, it seems they are more likely to think that counselling will perhaps further re-enforce their already pessimistic and negative view of themselves as a failure with no hope of change. Now I see that more and more people come to counselling when they have reached their own ‘jumping off point’, it seems more accessible, and although I often sense “Look how broken I am, not even you can fix me!” Nevertheless they come.
In the film, we are introduced to George Baileys ‘counsellor’ at the very beginning, namely; Clarence Oddbody AS2 (Angel Second Class.) A seemingly gentle and caring soul, with the mind of a child. Who is eager to get his wings. Or perhaps, another way of looking at Clarence is as a man who exhibits Respect, Empathy and Genuiness in an open and non-judgmental way…
As George tells him of the mistakes he’s made in life, and the failure that he has become. George resigns himself to the belief that he and his family would be better off if he were dead. When Clarence points out the pain and hurt this would cause to Georges family, George agrees and decides it would have been better if he’d never been born… It is here that Clarence talks about how each person touches so many other lives.
When with a client, it can be a significant moment when a clients self belief is greatly reduced. Their conditions of worth at an all time low. For me as the counsellor, I feel this is when we truly see a person in their utter fragility, their brokenness so very evident. The long and painful journey through emotional recovery and restoration of these conditions, can be arduous and difficult.
In Capra’s movie however, Clarence, as Georges ‘counsellor’ is able to take George on a journey to realize his conditions of worth by showing him what life would have been like had he not ever existed. George is then taken to see for himself the ways in which he has affected people’s lives just by being present… And he is given an opportunity to see how ‘those’ peoples lives might have turned out if he hadn’t have been there. Like the druggist, who, if George hadn’t have been there as a child to stop him mixing up the medications. A sick child would have died and the druggist’s life would have been ruined.
It seems very clear to me today that each of our interactions with others has consequences. Some that we see and others that we may never know. This whole butterfly effect of human interaction is fascinating. How can we ever wish that life be different from what it has been? Even through pain and suffering? It is these threads of our past that makes ourselves the rich tapestry that is the human condition.
I feel that is one of my hopes when working with a person that they can endeavor to realize their worth and grow from their experiences. Through looking into our past and realizing the effects we have had on people, both positive and negative. I feel we can learn to realize ourselves as a whole person. With frailties and brokenness, and in realizing them. I feel there is a limitless possibility for personal growth.
To me now. Frank Capras timeless movie is so much more that a sentimental Christmas film. It the observation of brokenness and despair. Resulting in the realization that all life is sacred and all experiences are rich. It is a reflection of the perfection we try to attain, the mistakes that we make, the seeds that we sow, and the joy we can bring.
After all, it‘s a wonderful life…
Sincerely YoursA Thirsk Counsellor