Now that 80s legends Guns ‘N’ Roses have officially announced their reunion at the upcoming Coachella festival, the next round of discussions and interviews can begin. At this time it is unclear exactly who from the original lineup will be involved. But GNR's acrimonious breakup and Slash and Axl’s 20+ year estrangement have been well-documented. Both Slash and Duff McKagan’s books are great reads and I recommend them. But what happened to get this notoriously acrimonious crew back together? Certainly a pile of money is involved. But a pile of money has been on the table for quite some time, surely. So why now?
It may be that some of the members are feeling their age. Granted, the band has had some well-known health problems, including bassist Duff’s pancreas exploding (!), drummer Steven Adler’s narcotics-related stroke and Slash’s heart problems. Most people assume that most or all of these are substance-related; not a bad call and, according to their autobiographies, accurate. But aging is a different beast and can’t be corralled by a trip to rehab. I wonder if at some point the term “closure” will be batted around by one or more members of the band as they attempt to answer the “why now?” question.
I find that, as a therapist, clients invoke the term closure frequently when talking about their reasons for wanting to examine a failed relationship, a death or any number of other events in their lives. But what does the term mean, exactly?
For a therapist the word means, well, whatever the client wants it to mean. We can’t change the past, so reliving or changing the events that we are examining together is completely off the table. So the discussion becomes a question of what will be different about the client’s life once this “closure” is achieved. For example, if someone is trying to move on from a former spouse or partner and wants “closure,” I will ask them “What will you be doing differently once you feel like you’ve gotten your closure?” The same question may apply to a client who has unresolved issues with a now-deceased parent. I also might ask “what will other people notice about you that has improved once you have achieved closure?”
A logical question that a reader might ask is “how does one go about this?” Well, talking about perceptions and experiences is a big part of therapy. But one exercise I’ve found powerful and effective is for clients to write a letter to the person they are seeking closure with. Generally, I don’t recommend mailing this letter or sending it to the person, but that is, of course, at the client’s discretion. However, the act of writing down feelings and then reading it aloud to a therapist can be cathartic and often is a way to achieve the closure that clients seek. For some (though by no means all) this may mean getting together with old friends or enemies. Or even estranged family members!
Perhaps you are now thinking “It’s So Easy!” Well, not so much. Great tune (pathos aside--GNR aren't exactly paragons of mental health), but not always a slogan applied to the emotional journey of psychotherapy.
Mike McMahan is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Antonio, Texas.
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Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture