Someone asked me the other day why I became a counsellor, no one had asked me before, in fact not many people talk to me about counselling, maybe they are worried I will analyse them and dig out their secrets (I won’t!). I didn’t always want to be a counsellor, when I was a child I wanted to be either a vet or She-Ra. My woeful lack of aptitude in the sciences and in mathematics meant that I was unlikely to qualify as a vet and I didn’t have the right family connections to become the Princess of Power. So for a long time I bounced around jobs without much direction until I became involved, as a client, in a creative therapy group.
I went because I was confused about who I was meant to be and exhausted from trying to fit in and be ‘ok’, whatever that meant. And because I had come to the conclusion that I was too fragile for this world, everything hurt, everything frightened me. I was tired of either not feeling anything or feeling too much. Oh, and I hated myself. The group therapist, Maggie, appeared to me, initially, to have a zen like calm about her. Everything was ok according to Maggie, horrible thoughts, unwanted feelings, all the things we tried to hide from others and ourselves were named, explored and accepted which took away their power to confine us in self criticism and hatred. Nothing we could say would shock Maggie, she accepted it calmly, she explored and she challenged but she never judged.
I soon learned that Maggie wasn’t as perfect as I had assumed, I learned that she also struggled to accept herself fully. I learned that she had also been bruised and scarred by her experiences and that her emotional wellbeing, just like mine, needed maintaining with nurturing and acceptance. The idea that a flawed human being with struggles of their own could still do so much good, help so many people was not only an inspiration to me but made counselling an attainable goal, after all who was more flawed than me?!
What I experienced in that group, maybe for the first time, was true acceptance and I began to understand the positive impact of a therapeutic relationship. All of my future counselling relationships with my own clients would be based on the idea that emotional suffering happens as a result of negative relationships/interactions and to heal from sadness or trauma a positive relationship is needed. This is not my original theory, it is the foundation for most counselling relationships but as a young adult I was astounded at the impact that this simple (though not always easy) premise had on myself and other people in the group.
I saw (and still do) in many people an unnamed suffering made worse by isolation, self criticism and the belief that “other people’s problems are worse” or “people would hate me if they knew the real me”. I realised that this suffering is common and legitimate but often unnecessary and believed that I, like Maggie, could help to alleviate it.
What followed was a long and rocky road of self discovery, deconstruction and reconstruction and a lot of studying. I have learned about different types of counselling, how our brain and body responds to trauma, neglect and depression and strategies for addressing the array of mental and emotional difficulties that people present to me with. Yet underneath all of that I still find that the most important aspects of my work is the relationship, the trust we build together, the struggles, the tears and the laughter (of which there is often more than you might think). I’m not a team player by nature but for me counselling is a collaboration between the client and myself, we work together to find out what hurts and we fix it. And I love every minute of it.